Photoessay: the ever-present scrapbook, mid-2018 edition

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I’ve written several times in the past about the legitimacy of phones as photographic tools My main assumptions have always been the same: that a) one does not compose any differently; a 28mm-e FOV is a 28mm-e FOV and does not change with recording format; b) you are aware of and shoot within the limits of the hardware, i.e. dynamic range, light, ability to handle motion, stability etc; c) you’ve almost always got it with you, so the opportunities are simply greater – especially the larger your primary hardware becomes. The number of excuses have gotten fewer too, as phone camera hardware has improved – but not as much as the processing software behind it. I’m currently on an iPhone 8 Plus, which has dual cameras (primary, 28mm-e, stabilised; secondary, 56mm-e, unstabilized, and a stop slower). I find that I use the tele camera a lot less than I’d have expected – probably given that its working envelope is very small due to the lack of stabilisation and what appears to be diffraction limits (not surprising given the extremely tiny pixels – in the 1um range or so). I’m also finding that whilst images look great at normal output sizes – say up to a moderate monitor – they really fall apart at full resolution, with perhaps even less pixel-level integrity than the earlier generation of phone sensors. I suspect this is because there’s a lot more processing going on to optimise things for straight out of camera use; blame the social media generation. They also won’t print well. These images either look okay as they are, or are going to present nigh on zero latitude for post processing – a fact confirmed by the surprising gulf between raw files and JPEG. Shooting RAW is a pain, requiring you to do it in LR Mobile (and very slow) – so I’ve only ever tried this on an experimental basis. I can’t help but feel though in some ways the limitations are somewhat part of the stylisation; mostly to do with handling of deep shadows and contrast. The camera’s limits do nudge you unsubtly towards shooting in a certain way; all devices do this to some extent, I suppose. Presented today is what I think of as a “scrapbook of experiments from the last six months I didn’t think you could get away with doing more seriously”; somehow the compositions are a bit more minimalist or stark or whimsical than what I’d do with a larger camera, though that’s not to say the results aren’t interesting…MT

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Photoessay: Indirectly Mondrian

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Today’s set is a curation of images accumulated over the last couple of years – somewhere in my subconscious, I think there must be a cubist/surrealist influence that probably has something of the Mondrian about it. Every so often, there’s a rectangular compositional arrangement that makes itself known, compels me to photograph it, and then file it away – almost always the composition will pop up as a visual non-sequitur when I’m busy shooting something else. It isn’t always colourful, rectangular, drippy and delineated – but there’s usually at least two of these properties that show. Visual work may be derivative, but it doesn’t have to be outright duplicative; there also seems to be quite a lot of recursion and crossover with other obsessions of mine – mostly wimmelbild. Perhaps it’s a merging of an underlying desire to seek visual structure, but preserve an underlying intricacy and detail that holds your attention as you try to figure out exactly what you’re looking at In any case – I’ve processed these, filed them away for later and whilst clearing my archive – here they are. Perhaps it’ll be worth revisiting in another year or two as a long term project – sometimes these underlying themes only emerge with time and some degree of detachment at the actual time of execution… MT

Shot with a variety of cameras over the last few years, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Life in Osaka

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Today’s images are a stream-of-consciousness style set of observations of life in Osaka. I wanted to see if there were any perceptible differences from the audience side given these were not shot in my usual way, but rather a series of quick grabs whilst I was there for reasons other than photography, and with photography not as my primary objective. The usual (heavy) curation took place after the fact, which may perhaps dull the value of the exercise as the same biases are therefore applied to both more deliberate and these opportunistic sets. Is the way we see so immutably hard coded by force of habit and practice, that even when we are not trying, the result is indistinguishable? I leave you to let me know. MT

This series was shot with a Canon G1X Mark III and Nikon D850/24-120VR, and postprocessed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Photographing Pulau Ketam on two wheels

I had a quick photowalk at Pulau Ketam recently, an idyllic fishing village island near Port Klang. Since the entire village is built on floating platforms with narrow walkways, the only way to get about is bicycles or electric bikes. I found it interesting to observe everyone going about their daily routine and chores on two wheels. Therefore – I narrowed down my choice of subject to just people on their bikes. It was a huge challenge to shoot when scenes may appear repetitive – due to similar backgrounds and subjects on similar looking rides.

In order to achieve an adequate variety of shots to form a cohesive series, I played with slow shutter speeds to induce motion blur, panning shots as well as portraits of the locals still on their bike while running errands. I only used the M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 on my Olympus PEN E-P5 for these shots. This is part of an on-going exercise to improve my use of 35mm (equivalent) focal length.

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Photoessay: Workaday life

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Alternate title: another day, another dollar. As otherworldly as some bits of Tokyo might be to the casual visitor, like every city – there are more than the fair army of salarymen keeping everything running below the surface. The job is thankless, uncelebrated, mostly unnoticed, but necessary to keep the big wheel turning. We do it because we have to, and in doing so, a sort of Stockholm syndrome emerges: not exactly love or affection, but we still take pride in our work. Are they happy? Sad? Indifferent? Perhaps the sort of bittersweet melancholy that comes from celebrating small triumphs and mourning little losses. Individually our problems are our own; collectively, they’re the mood of a society. Every time I visit Tokyo, the word that sticks in my head is ‘stoicism’ – even if there are little escapes here and there. MT

This series was shot with a Canon 100D, 24STM and 55-250STM lenses, an X1D-50c and 90mm, and a H6D-100c and 100mm. Post processing was completed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III. Travel vicariously and make the most of your trip with How To See Ep.2: Tokyo, or T1: Travel Photography.

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Off topic photoessay: a new chapter for Malaysia

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I have never been interested in politics – mostly because the same party has been in power in my country since independence; more than 60 years. A change of government is no big deal in most democracies; but the concept of democracy had been largely theoretical until two days ago – the incumbents ensured there was simply no credible opposition to vote for even if you were inclined to. I – and many others – had come to the conclusion that democracy was merely an illusion. We were proven wrong two days ago when the opposition was elected into power by a surprisingly large margin; never mind that the opposition was lead by a 93-year old former prime minister who switched sides, and the supporting cast of actors was largely the same as before. Never mind that Malaysians voted for fundamentally the same thing as we had 20 years before (if that’s not a pervasively conservative attitude, I don’t know what is). And never mind that some of the promises made (as with every election) may not make complete rational sense – the real news is that we actually had a choice. At the very least, this gives us hope that things can change: and from now on, change will happen if the people aren’t happy.

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Photoessay: Urban vignettes, Osaka

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Today’s photoessay is a short series of vignettes from Osaka. I found it a strange place because the visually appealing bits – photographed here – were pretty empty most of the time; the not so nice bits, not photographed, were buzzing wit activity. A strange paradox and one I couldn’t really reconcile with the city’s place as an industrial hub and one of the largest cities in Japan. One thing that didn’t appeal so much was the omnipresent overhead highways; not so much the fact that they were used (understandably, to preserve real estate yet create efficient arteries directly through the heart of the city) – but the fact that they blocked out so much natural light at street level, leaving the place feeling somewhat post-apocalyptic-Blade-Runner-esque even during bright sunshine. Further adding to the challenge is the layout of the city itself: a grid without much light at ground level is really not very conducive to photography, hence the relatively low yield (which dropped off even further after the last few months of maturation time). MT

These images were shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120/4 VR and Canon G1X Mark III, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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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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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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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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