Fully mirrorless, six months in

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At the end of last year, I sold my last DSLRs. In a way, they represented the apex of development in the smaller format: the D850, with high frame rates, resolution, high ISO capability, color accuracy, AF tracking and a great viewfinder – if you must still have an optical finder, and unless you need much lighter weight or crazy frame rates, this is probably as good as a DSLR is going to get. The D8xx line proved so good that the D3X high resolution pro body never even got a successor – there was simply no need. It challenged the medium format cameras of its day, and arguably still continues to do so at the 50MP 44x33mm end, especially if you need AF tracking, frame rates, or do a lot of low light work that needs fast lenses. Sitting at the other end of the spectrum, I also bid farewell to the D3500 – the synthesis of consumer manufacturing efficiency; complete with a decently performing, stabilised lens and state of the art sensor at a price less than most entry level mirrorless – or even a decent 1″ compact. Cheaper even, than a spare battery for some cameras. Yet with all of this, you get performance and image quality pros would have done highly immoral things for not that long ago. Despite my various hardware experimentations and diversions, I’ve always kept a DSLR of some sort somewhere in the lineup – even if not primary body. Since then, I’ve been living a mirrorless life – to make up for it, today I offer some reflections on the topic.

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Use the night

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The role of the camera is to present a perspective not otherwise visible; nowhere is this more obvious than night photography. Firstly, because we tend not to shoot much at night since most of us need to spend it sleeping to be functional for work the next day, resulting in both limited subject material and limited opportunity; secondly, because historically the results have always been lacking technically; and finally, because it requires us to train our minds to see in a different way than we normally do: what’s visible is made much more obvious by the ambient darkness, or what’s hidden. Yet shooting after the sun goes down is precisely the kind of thing that yields rich photographic results because it is less common, and therefore fewer images exist of activities that take place at night and are seen by fewer people. Beyond the subject matter itself, there’s the opportunity to present the same subject very differently: be it due to the change in ambient illumination color and direction, or integration long exposure and motion, or at a deeper level, reflecting the changes in ourselves and the way we observe and behave once the sun goes down.

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Photography, philosophy and psychology

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In a sense, this entire site has revolved around these three topics*: the way we experience it and share this experience with others (psychology, and to some degree, physiology), and the way we interpret it (philosophy) – expressed by means of a static, 2D visual medium (photography). Today I’m going to attempt to tie it together in a deceptively simple way in today’s post: photography is capturing a still image. Good photography is capturing something unique or transient and sharing it; really exceptional photography says something meaningful about the subject and the interpretation – and in a way that an external audience can understand.

*Despite what others may think about my views on or approach towards hardware: that is merely a means to an end, and I think sufficiently resolved now to the point of being effectively unimportant.

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Inspiration and creativity in times of crisis

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There is a cliched saying “necessity is the mother of invention” – I’ve always felt this to be only partially true. Reality is probably closer to being that solutions are found in times of desperation when there is no other choice, but this is only possible if some latent seed of imagination exists in the first place. Without that, no amount of need is going to force an intelligent answer or inspiration to materialise. This is true whether it’s something as vital as escaping from captivity or saving a business in time of crisis or finding something to cook for the evening with the ingredients to hand or even just staving off the boredom of being confined under COVID lockdown. I think it’s probably both easier and harder to survive this period for those of us wired to be creative – on one hand, we have a surfeit of time to sit down and get on with it without the usual interruptions or social expectations, but on the other we also have not just limited resources but limited inspiration. As we’ve discussed previously – creativity isn’t something that can be switched on and off at will, nor is it something that operates in a vacuum. At one end, you have the inclination, resources and inspiration and something gets produced, or you are missing any one of those elements and you feel frustrated. Or – lack inclination entirely. The bit that concerns us most in the current global situation is probably the inspiration part. But maybe it isn’t entirely hopeless…

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Popular reactions to art

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A few months back, the touring Leonardo Da Vinci reproduction exhibition “Opera Omnia” made a stop in Kuala Lumpur. Whilst obviously not the originals, 17 decent reproductions were made on transparent canvas and backlit to simulate the experience of viewing a well-lit painting as closely as possible. I say ‘decent’ because the method was quite clever, but close up some of the the reproductions clearly lacked the print resolution required to really capture the subtlety of the originals – both Da Vinci’s own extremely fine brushstrokes on areas such as hair, but also the ageing and craquelure that’s a large part of the experience. Obviously, the “3D-ness” of real paint were not reproduced, though I suspect with a little less diffusion on the light used for the initial reproduction, some shadows of surface texture might have been captured. Interestingly, even behind barriers, glass, and at a greater distance – the originals somehow feel much more textural than the reproductions. But I digress – this is not so much about the reproduction method as more general commentary on the public and the way art is seen/appreciated/interpreted in general.

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OpEd: a disrupted future

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The current state of the world is a bleak but let’s be honest, unsurprising one. We have a disease to which nobody has any natural immunity; it is easily transmitted and highly infectious but not lethal enough to break the chain of transmission by itself (by killing off its hosts, like say Ebola or Marburg – both of which tend not to spread because there are no carriers left). In the past, the chain was broken by community isolation; travel was difficult or expensive and few went – certainly not if you were sick. Now, it seems everybody is a tourist – to the point that the lack of tourism probably has a bigger economic impact on most countries than domestic market shutdowns. Like most people around the world, I’m stuck at home on lockdown at least until the end of this month; tomorrow our (unelected*) government decides if we continue for longer or not. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of thinking time as there hasn’t been a whole lot to do between not being able to go out to photograph and the supply chain for the watch industry shutting down and everything effectively being on hold. Let’s examine a few scenarios and plan accordingly…

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The age of influencers

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Once upon a time, there was the internet. Then digital photography. Then user-generated content. Then high-turnover social media. Then the validation of one’s choices via social media kudos/likes/shares/comments/interactions. And then the snowball effect of the loudest person being heard and seen the most – and given instant credibility. And those without enough knowledge, conviction or confidence of their own heading into blind tailgating – enter the age of the influencer. Technically, an influencer is a person who is an opinion leader or tastemaker; ideally, their position is earned by the validity of their opinions through experience. Unfortunately, visibility or peer validation by other equally clueless people is now a frequent substitute for experience – and they’re really not the same thing. Historically, people whose opinions were heeded were valuable to brands because they could affect consumer buying behaviour. There is obviously commercial value in this, prompting more and more others to position themselves as ‘influencers’, too: but what happens when credibility is not only for sale, but appears to have more scale/ weight than legitimate experience? Enter my prediction for the next phase of social media: the death of the influencer.

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The concept of ‘visual weight’

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Heavy, but with light inside bits. Translation: transparency

I keep getting asked about this, and then remember I’d already covered it. Here goes the gentle reminder!

We acknowledge that every medium of expression has its strengths and limitations relative to others. Yet our basis for discussion and understanding of concepts and ideas is very much a written/spoken language-based one, this remains our benchmark – more so when the concepts become more complex and less intuitive – or the opposite, so simple and basic they’re entirely intuitive and not at all logical. There are of course severe limitations of language when it comes to describing the visual properties of expression and composition, yet it’s usually easy for us to see when something isn’t quite right. Why, how, and what do proportions, weight, balance, composition and aesthetics have to do with each other? Is there a somewhat more objective way to handle these concepts? I’m not certain, but today were going to try.

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The photographer as philosopher

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Some time ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader who posed an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?

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Why most images are compromised (or, so much for the decisive moment)

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Following the previous article and questions ensuing, I felt this earlier (read: probably forgotten) post would be a good explanation of just how much of a grey area the whole idea of a ‘decisive moment’ is…

A photograph is an observation of a scene at a given moment in time. It’s an effectively instantaneous snapshot of the state of a scene or person or other subject, given the relative rate of change of those subjects. If we extend the duration of observation – i.e. with a long shutter speed – we might see some hints at that change in the form of motion blur, or eventually, averaging. If we get lucky, or observe for a long period of time, we might eventually be able to capture an interesting change or temporary state of the system; however, this assumes two further things. Firstly, that we can differentiate what is ‘interesting’ and have a good benchmark of what to look for; secondly, that we are aware and responsive enough to capture it. I think we can already see why there are some serious challenges here.

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