What is creativity?

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“Creativity” is a term we hear increasingly thrown around and applied to things that perhaps are both not obvious immediate recipients, and simultaneously perhaps the most needing of such treatment. Ask any non-creative person what they think it means, and immediately unstructure, randomness and perhaps some whimsy come to mind. If you ask a creative person, especially a prolific one, it’s probably the complete opposite. I’m going to take a balanced attempt at tackling this from the point of view of a creative person forced to be uncreative for a good chunk of my career, and who’s now finally spent about equal amounts of time doing both. So where does the truth really lie, what does ‘to be creative’ really mean, and why is any of it important?

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Virtual photography

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With the current state of global affairs, and the quasi-military lockdown in my country, photography of any kind beyond watches, household objects and things I can see from my apartment balcony has been pretty limited. I’ve attempted the moon a couple of times, making an unholy combination of teleconverters and adaptors that worked quite well*. But honestly – I’ve run out of stuff to shoot. It doesn’t help that my lighting gear is at the office, and we’re not exactly allowed to leave home. So…I decided to see if it was worth ‘learning’ how to photograph in Gran Turismo Sport.

*Zeiss-Hasselblad 5.6/250 Superachromat with Zeiss s 2XE APO on a V-F adaptor, on a Nikon TC17EII teleconverter, on the FTZ adaptor, on the Z7, for a total of 850mm at…f16. But it really was apochromatic, and resolved remarkably well – up to the diffraction limit, at least.

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Robin’s fisheye adventures

Firstly – a happy Lunar New Year to all our readers!

Fisheye lenses fall in the love-it-or-hate-it category – there is no middle ground. The excessive distortion is not widely accepted and frankly does not work for many scenarios. I was curious about how I would approach street shooting with such a lens as it would, no doubt, change my execution in street shooting by forcing me to look for different subjects and compose my scenes differently. I found that I needed to be more careful in my framing as the lens can fit in more than intended. Also, to find subjects and scenes that work well with fisheye is a huge challenge in itself. I used the Olympus M.Zuiko 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens for all images in this article.

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Photoessay: Forest in the city

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Recently reopened, Taman Tugu is a surprisingly large park in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. It’s unique for being a rehabilitated secondary rainforest: for decades it had been used as a fly tipping site; literally hundreds of tons of rubbish and debris were removed from the hilly area by hand, and native species brought in to accelerate the repopulation of the forest and close up the canopy. Despite being effectively a manmade park, it has the feel of being completely natural other than a couple of prepared trails and benches; this is completely different from any of the other parks or reserves in Kuala Lumpur, and made to feel even more surreal due to the location – you’re barely two or three kilometres from the city centre, but once inside the park you hear nothing but birds and insects. It’s an amazingly tranquil feeling and I think something quite unusual for an urban area. The only other analog ambience-wise that comes to mind is the Nezumuseum garden in Tokyo; but that’s obviously a completely manmade garden, though the style is less formal than your traditional Japanese construction. Both however have the same sort of underlying feeling of structured chaos – an organic natural-ness overlaid on top of something more organised. To have something this close to home is very special indeed, and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Kuala Lumpur (but bring mosquito repellent). In this series I’ve tried to capture vignettes of that feeling, though this turned out to be more difficult than imagined…

This set was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 S and processed with Photoshop Workflow III and the Monochrome Masterclass.

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“And the winner is…” – July 2012 competition results!

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In the end, I received 120 entries in total – thank you to everybody who supported the competition; it’s paved the way for future ones – look out for the August challenge starting soon. This means the total pot is USD$600 – $300 for the winner and $120 for the honourable mention.

The overall standard was good to high; of those, there were about 30 which stood out, requiring some significant contemplation to boil down to ten, and ultimately, a winner.

The first competition was set with a deliberately broad theme to allow as many interpretations of the subject as possible; common themes were portraits, street, babies, and humans in nature. There was hope and happiness, there was abstraction and dehumanisation, there was despair, and occasionally, hope in despair. The winner wasn’t the one with the sharpest picture, but the one with the sharpest idea – the most creative interpretation of the theme, and the best execution of that – so that the subject would be immediately obvious to the viewer. Breaking this down into specific criteria, the image had to make either an emotional connection with the viewer – if a close shot – or juxtapose the subject into a context which elicited a response in the observer. Needless to say, the subject had to be obvious to the viewer – either separated by color, light or texture; if we had to look too hard to find the human element, it’s probably unlikely that the photograph managed to keep to the theme. Finally, judgement was given to technical composition and execution – were there distracting things entering the edges of the frame? How as the image processed? Was it in focus? Etc.

With that, here are the top 10, in no particular order:

Alvan Yap – A mother’s pride
Alvan Yap
A positively strong image with a clear relationship between subjects; emotions transfer from mother to daughter to viewer, as though she’s being encouraged to be less shy towards the camera. Overall good frame balance, though the upper portion feels somewhat truncated and the left/right sides of the image are a little too prominent for my liking; it’s as though the subjects are sticking to the frame. I would probably have burned out the odd looking cylindrical/ conical objects in the background of the house. Overall Excellent tones and processing.

Ben Hopkins – Ni Dios
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Nice use of motion to isolate the subject; although there’s a good balance of elements in the frame, the image feels a little top-heavy because of the lintel; framing higher to allow a little less foreground and a little more headroom would have helped this. I find the processing to lighten the sleeping figure somewhat overdone; there’s a bit of a halo visible around him, and the whole area just seems a bit too bright. THe dog is a nice touch though – mirroring of the primary subject. Finally, although the verticals are straight, the horizontals are not – but too close to being straight to ignore, which results in a slightly uncomfortable feeling when looking at the top right portion of the image.

Rafael Macia – Broadway Bus
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This strange man is a reminder to us that the human element is unpredictable, strange, but at the same time, perhaps not so different from ourselves – wearing a pair of goggles isn’t that far off eyeglasses, for instance. To some, carrying little black boxes around and aiming them at various things is probably even stranger; who’s to judge. Nice use of natural frames to isolate the subject – the bus window, and especially the little corner of the building that snakes around his head. I find the bright portion of floor at center-right to be somewhat distracting and empty, but it’s mostly balanced to center left. Inclusion of the text at bottom left was a nice touch, too.

Travis Rhodes – untitled
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This shot captures a nice innocent moment between two children – siblings, perhaps? The moment is very well timed and perfectly catches the expression of surprise of the girl on the right. Although the subjects are separated by depth of field, and to a lesser extent lighting, there’s something slightly bothersome about the background chaos; a little less depth of field would have improved this image – just enough to give context, but not so much as to allow secondary elements to be distracting.

Dee Dee Yelverton – True Love
Dee Dee Yelverton
Lovely emotion, lighting and execution; excellent use of texture, too. The image also has good balance, and a little quirkiness that plays to the theme of the competition. There are two things that could use improvement here – firstly, I don’t care much for the superimposed text; I feel it ruins a perfectly strong image. Secondly, the cut off watch at bottom right is distracting because it’s the only hard, non-organic shape that intersects the edge of the frame.

Lynne Shaheen – Pure concentration
Lynne Shaheen
Here, the human element sits in isolation – total concentration is an apt title. The subject’s difficult pose is isolated nicely by depth of field; however the bokeh also serves to provide psychological reinforcement for the title, as though the gymnast is completely focusing on the next pole only – and blurring out his environment. Overall though, the subject is vertical – but the frame is horizontal; this has resulted in a lot of empty space on left and right that don’t particularly add anything to the shot, as well as a cut off hand at the top edge. It’s important when shooting action to remember that there are other useable focus points apart from the center one, and that the camera can be rotated. Finally, lighting manages to be both somewhat flat and in the wrong place – the gymnast’s legs are well highlighted, but his face and bulk of upper body are in shadow and not so well defined.

Ferry Zievinger – Bench sharing
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This interesting split frame manages to do two interesting things – humanize an animal, and animalize a human. I find this juxtaposition interesting, and here, well executed; whilst there’s symmetry to the frame, the precise balance has been adjusted to take into account the different shapes of animal and man. My one criticism of this image isn’t to do with the framing, composition or execution; it’s the processing. There’s so much textural variation here, it’s a shame that it isn’t more obvious; the top third of the frame is actually quite flat. And a little strategic dodge and burn around the face and t-shirt of the man would have helped tonally balance out the bright white portion of the dog.

Kristian Dowling – untitled
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A beautiful, tender moment captured between mother and daughter. The windblown hair, to me, adds a dynamic, transient feeling to the overall image; suggesting that perhaps such instants are fleeting and to be appreciated (and clearly, captured). It’s a great moment, but the execution has opportunities for improvement – firstly, left-right balance of this image a bit off; the heads of the subjects blend into the trees, and the white sky feels empty. Secondly, the overall image is somewhat flat, especially in the facial tones; yet there’s a clear halo behind the arms of the mother where the subjects were lightened.

Robert Yong Lee – Intersections
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This image takes a very different interpretation of the topic – an abstract, almost painterly scene has an empty spot that’s filled conveniently by a generic human shape – very much making it the human element of the scene, and nothing more. I like the use of large depth of field and texture here; amplified further by the highly directional light source, emphasizing textures in the frame. Overall, it’s balanced; the window frame at left could perhaps have been dodged a little to separate it out from the shadow of the lamp post and visually balance the lighter right side, though. Similarly with the shadowed pavement.

Arthur Wang – Working men: a city street
Working Men Chaotic City
Last, but not least – the utter chaos in the scene comes through well in the image; I almost feel like the atmospheric dust is amplified or reinforced by the slightly low contrast processing (though a little more contrast might have been nice). Here, the human element is everywhere but in the top left corner – and the slant of the frame doesn’t help this at all; in fact, it causes the two people in the foreground to be a little cut off. Yet somehow, the frame works as a whole – these technical imperfections seem to reinforce the business and chaotic nature of the actual location. There are two distracting edge elements, though – the handlebars of the bicycle intersecting the shadow of the car at bottom center, and the large gray object on the right edge. Framing left and down a little would have solved both of these problems.

In the end, the image that drew my eye back to it time and again was Broadway Bus – congratulations to Rafael Macia! The image has soul, grit and emotion – those very human characteristics. You win the first prize of US$300. The honourable mention (and $120) goes to Robert Yong Lee for intersections – I love the abstract, painterly quality of the image, and the creative interpretation of the theme; however, the shadow casts a certain detachment to proceedings which doesn’t quite lend the same impact as a non-abstracted person in the scene would.  I think this was a very close fight between the finalists, and everybody should be proud of their work. I’ll be in touch with both winners via email to sort out remittances.

Get ready for the next competition announcement, in a couple of hours. MT


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