On visual economics and scarcity

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No longer special if you see it every day, but stands out precisely because you don’t.

Alternative title: why exceptional photographs will always be rare

Economics 101: value, regardless of how it’s measured (price, time, social media kudos, etc) is proportional to demand. Demand is regulated by intrinsic attractiveness to a given market, the size of that market, and the supply available. Regardless of how few of something there are, if nobody likes or wants it, then it has no value. Similarly, something that may be intrinsically cheap but in short supply with a huge demand might see its price rise out of proportion with the the actual cost, utility or materials of the goods in question. But it’s not just physical goods that obey this rule; intellectual property and even more nebulous intangibles that do not have a limited supply (e.g. there is no theoretical limit to the number of people who can view a photograph) do, too. Even the compositional elements of a photograph. If you’re ready for another one of my strange philosophies, read on.

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Repost: Derivative works and photography

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Influenced by the architect? Surely. Created by him? About as much as it was created by Apple, because it was shot on an iPhone.

I originally wanted to call this article ‘is anything truly original?’ – however, I think that’s the concluding question I’d like to leave the reader with rather than the opening one. There has been a lot of debate recently – both in the comments here, offline amongst my usual correspondents and in various places on the internet about why a) photography is perhaps not perceived as ‘highly valued’ as other art forms; b) obviously derivative works and the creative value – or lack of – contained therein; and the greater question of whether c) the medium as a legitimate creative art form rather than merely a recording/ documentary one. Perhaps the biggest question is in the title: ‘but is it art?’

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Shoot everything / diminishing returns

Is it possible to practice too much? To the point that it’s almost impossible to capture something exceptional because you’ve already seen 99.9% of the possible expressions of a given subject, and then captured and curated the best from there? Is there really a point at which additional repetition does not build muscle memory, speed of response, familiarity or spur creativity? Of late, I’m increasingly thinking the answer is actually yes: you can overshoot. But as usual, there are caveats, so hear me out before you break out the stakes, pitchforks and gasoline.

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Artist’s statement, 2018 edition

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…or, ‘statement of underlying principles and philosophies as relates to the way MT sees and captures the world’ – but that doesn’t quite read as smoothly.

We all start our photographic journeys with the intent and desire to capture something specific; we may or may not succeed at this to a level with which we are happy. Inevitably, the next step is to attempt to capture everything, almost indiscriminately; if done well, this produces a curation nightmare: the gates are open and we are now seeing opportunity everywhere. We may or may not (likely not) have the executional skill required to translate that vision into an image that is read as intended by our audience; we may not even know who the audience is yet. Fast forward through the GAS, and if you make it that far – the hard road is only beginning. Rapidly diminishing returns set in and serious dedication and practice are required to make any meaningful progress; the hardest part of which is developing an objective yet fair ability to self-critique one’s own work. Previously, I’ve detailed this process in the stages of creative evolution; I’ve discussed general underlying motivations for photography here, here and here (and probably elsewhere that doesn’t immediately come to mind). What I’ve not done much of is talk about why I personally photograph what I photograph now. Sure, it’s probably possible to form an overall picture of my philosophy if you’ve read enough of my articles, and there’s a massively antiquated raison d’être of sorts on my flickr profile – but as we change, so do our motivations. Or vice versa. And that complex balance is what I’m going to attempt to explain today. The overall picture may well diverge from your own approach, but hopefully some of the individual points might be useful.

Important note: notice none of the tenets is subject or location specific (let alone hardware-dependent). A consistent and solid approach needs to be as universally applicable as possible.

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Design, photography and visual priorities

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The previous post out of the archives was intended to cue up your thinking for today’s discussion: taking things one step further and exploring the relationship between design, photography and composition.

Some of you probably know that beyond photography, I’m involved in design work on two fronts – as lead designer at Horologer MING, my watch brand, and as a consultant at Hasselblad. There is a popular misconception that design is mainly about a few things: style, function/ usability/ UI/ ergonomics, and differentiation. In reality, design is really about making a set of coherent choices in an environment where there are choices to be made I’d argue that beyond and above this, there’s really only one overarching principle that should be the basis of all good design: I think of it as one of composition.

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Le flaneur

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From Wikipedia: “Flâneur (pronounced [flɑnœʁ]), from the French noun flâneur, means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”. Flânerie is the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations. A near-synonym is boulevardier.” A holdover from the class divides of 19th and early 20th century in Europe when the gentry could spend their time engaged in leisurely walking, observing and enjoying the cities, the concept might sound a bit indolent today but is actually still quite apt: these were the original street photographers, most of whom went without cameras. Fast forward half a century and we had the tourists; who perhaps could be thought of as serial visitors herded in predefined courses from important sight to sight. In parallel, photography went from an academic and scientific curiosity to being a mass-medium for personal recording, and then public exhibition. And then a means to show off: this brings us to the present day.

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Thoughts on portraiture

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I have never been a portrait shooter – and as much as I find satisfaction (the reasons why we will discuss in due course) in a well-executed portrait, I don’t think it will ever be the mainstay of my photographic repertoire. The reason is both simple and complex: a portrait is not a photograph of the physical person – it’s a visual representation of your relationship with that person. A sort of mirror, if you will; even though all subjects reflect light and thus the environment to some degree, there are more and less reflective ones. Highly polished objects can land up being entirely representations of their surroundings only, with the merest interference of interpretation; one of the tenets I live by in watch/jewellery photography has always been ‘light for the reflection’. That’s not really relevant to portraiture, or is it?

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The habits of successful photographers, part II

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There are very few behind the scenes photos of me working – you’ll find out why below.

Continued from Part one. Today’s post concludes with an examination of the commercial part: whilst there is a good portion that’s simple common business sense (or not common, judging from the overall failure rate of small businesses) – there are elements and applications that are specific to photographers only, which I’ve tried to distil here.

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The habits of successful photographers, part I

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Sormcloud, or an image for me and me alone. I like it, regardless of what anybody else thinks: the ability to create this to my liking, present it and not give a damn is quite high on the elements I’d consider photographically ‘successful’.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is ‘how do/did I/you make a career from photography?’ People are inevitably displeased when I tell them there is no formulaic answer or one size fits all – for the simple reason that each set of circumstances is different, and the industry keeps changing at an ever more rapid pace. The question itself probably needs to be broken down into two portions anyway: being a successful photographer is not the same as being a commercially successful photographer, though there can and usually is some significant overlap. If the definition of success – at least from an artistic point of view – is to make images that oneself is happy with, then it’s somewhat easier to define a roadmap here – and we will do so below. If it’s seeking popular affirmation, then I’m the wrong person to ask else I’d be shooting cats/ bikinis/ coffee etc. with a million filters. As for the commercial part – I’ve served enough repeat clients and communicated with enough pros at the top of their game to be able to identify things we all do in common; whilst it’s not a guaranteed recipe, it’s probably a good starting point. Hopefully some of you might find it useful. MT

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Why SOOC still isn’t really workable

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Of all the 1500+ posts I’ve made here, I can’t recall ever exploring why SOOC (straight out of camera) images are – let’s not say ‘bad’ – but inherently compromised, at least given the current state of technology. No matter how ‘natural’ a company claims its out of camera rendition to be, something will always be missing for the simple fact that no current camera can read your mind.* Every situation/ scene/ composition is different; every photographic intent is different and every single set of ambient parameters (light, subject position, etc) varies from image to image – maybe not very much, but enough that it doesn’t take a whole lot of change to make a very different image than the one you intended. Two things here: intention, and uniqueness. And uniqueness is at the core of why we find ourselves compelled to make a photograph at all: something stood out enough to make us sit up, take notice and either want to remind ourselves of it again later, or share it with the world.

*I am leaving myself room for some seriously heavyweight machine learning algorithms in case this article is read in posterity. And more on the machine learning later.

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