Photoessay: A magic hour, part I

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A little while back, between meetings and a lull in the protests during elections…I found a magic hour early by the Kowloon side of the harbour. Almost completely absent of people, but with a clear, intense blue sky and strongly directional light that highlighted the geometric, abstract forms of the buildings around the Space Museum, Cultural Centre and Museum of Art. It felt like wandering around a giant child’s building blocks. Compositionally, each became an exercise in pure spatial balance; I didn’t see window or roof or wall so much as shapes of a certain visual weight that needed to be offset by other spatially opposed shapes of equal prominence. I felt them best presented in the midcentury, high-contrast monochrome style that Brasilia was first photographed in; the forms had the same sort of monumental weight tempered by idealist curves. Curiously, though I’d passed this location many times on my countless visits to Hong Kong, this is actually the first time I’d had the opportunity and the light to shoot here. I have to say it exceeded my expectations – and yielded more than just geometry, as you’ll see in part II… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, the Z 16-50 DX pancake and my custom SOOC picture controls.

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Photoessay: Nighthawk

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I think it’s very difficult to be in the US and not subconsciously influenced by Hopper, especially when walking around Manhattan; little vignettes rear their head and intrude into your field of view. One is powerless to do anything but raise the camera, and hit the button. Repeatedly. Then put your own twist and context on it, and try to parse it in a modern context. It’s actually quite easy to see where the painters of the era got their inspiration. Despite being painted nearly a century ago…it seems the mood hasn’t changed that much – or at least at the time these were shot, pre-COVID, that was the feeling I got. As with all of these things, I wish I’d had more time…what you see is but the briefest impression of a transient. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and 50/1.8 S lenses, using my custom SOOC JPEG picture controls.

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Photoessay: Mobile sketchbook

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On the back of the previous post, I realize I haven’t posted anything from my smartphone in a while – oddly, it isn’t because I haven’t been using it; it’s because its role keeps changing for me, from a curiosity and article of discipline (enforcing seeing and shot discipline completely independently of hardware) to an object of convenience, to a document copier, and now on to a visual sketchbook of sorts. I know I tried this already with the Pen F; that turned out be treated as a more serious photography tool which has since converged around the Z7 or D3500, leaving a hole for something for me to experiment with – and specifically, one with the extended DOF of a smaller sensor. There’s sadly no 100mm+ perspective option, but careful positioning and composition means the 56mm module renders more compressed than you might think. A good photographer should be able to work within and around limitations and not make excuses and all that… MT

Shot with an iPhone XS Max, no processing.

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Photoessay: Beached

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Take a visual holiday – a warm, tranquil, high-key break from the usual dense wimmelbild I prefer. Enjoy the varied colours of clouds and sky as they progress through the day. I could probably have shot more, but seen less. I could probably have brought better and more hardware, and felt constrained and less inclined to experiment. I could have not shot at all and just used my phone. But it’s impossible to deny still being a photographer and feeling more comfortable with than without; knowing that even if you’re mentally in switched off mode, you at least still have the option. The regular bustle is far away in the distance. And sometimes, what you produce reflects your mood – and that can be pleasingly refreshing. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500, kit lenses and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Upwards

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Today’s set is the result of a sore neck in New York – there’s so much verticality so close to you that you’re always craning upwards to see what the light is doing at the peaks. Street level is mostly shady given the angle of the sun and the blockage of surrounding structures, but there’s inevitably a lot of interesting contrast at the tops of the buildings – not to mention such a dense urban wimmelbild of shapes and textures. Perhaps it can get a little repetitive, but I find the homogeneity quite interesting – it’s the same, and yet it isn’t. The challenge lies in giving each frame its own personality – especially when the preference tends to involve shooting at a certain time of day for the right kind of shadows. And no, I didn’t always correct the keystoning – sometimes, that’s a large part of what creates that sensation of towering into the distance. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 Z and my custom JPEG picture controls, and a Fuji XF10 and Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Portman

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As you can probably imagine, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels in my time – some memorable, some less so. Some newer, some older. But one of the most architecturally interesting has to be John Portman’s Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. I’m sure there’s a proper classification/ term/ era for it, but it felt nothing so much like a representation of the neofuturisitc optimism of the late 70s or early 80s; from the inverse pyramid to the ‘turbolifts’, funky lighting and exposed buttresses, almost like stepping into a Star Trek set. You almost expect to hear a klaxon and see the whole thing flash red at times. It also retains some sizing traits I associate with mid-century architecture – long, narrow-ish corridors, largely unadorned surfaces, none of the grandiose scale and ornateness of the earlier part of the century, and none of the bare expansiveness of space of the 2000s. Whilst the rooms have undoubtedly been redecorated countless times, they still manage to retain a sort of southwestern charm. At the right times of day the skylights project interesting shadows, too – more so thanks to the hardness of light and relative lack of clouds in this part of the world. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 Z and my custom JPEG picture controls.

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Photoessay: Window seat IV

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Continued from the previous series of Window Seat photoessays…

Sometimes you get extremely lucky on a single round trip – and one of short duration on a budget airline, no less! I don’t think I’ve ever had this high a yield on a total flying time of about six hours before – at least not when the purpose of the flight wasn’t photography and I wasn’t able to direct the pilot. Most of what made the images interesting was the variety of weather conditions; no doubt because we were flying during monsoon season (which could itself be amply felt) with the heat and humidity required to create spectacularly dense/large clouds quickly, and the winds to whip them up into spectacularly interesting formations. For some of the ground locations – such as the lake that looks like a section through a brain – I can only imagine how much more spectacular they might have been at the right time of day (possibly at the expense of the clouds). It always pays to pick a window seat!

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and processed with Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Humans of New York

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Few cities I’ve visited can compete with NYC on the basis of diversity…and then there’s that extra layer of intensity and motion which Tokyo and Hong Kong perhaps match, but don’t do so with the kind of density and spread of New York. It’s always amazed me that there’s such a wide variety of stages possible in a layout of grid streets – I can’t think of anywhere else that offers a hunting ground this rich for the social observer. I was only here for a week, shot infrequently, and still managed to come away with interesting images. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and my custom JPEG picture controls, and a Fuji XF10 and Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Window seat III

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Continued from the previous series of Window Seat photoessays…

I’ve attempted to sequence these in some semblance of causal plausibility, but honestly – there’s no way one could do that unless the images were from the same flight (which these weren’t, but they were from the same continuous trip). As always, with these things – sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t; I had one flight recently that ended my blank streak (seat with no window or awkwardly positioned one; seat with dirty scratched glass but great light; seat with great window but clouds and rain; night flights; etc.) and it seemed that got things flowing again. I’ll say one thing though – repeated experiences with aircraft that have electronic/ LCD-dimming shades have left me with a preference for plain windows; you just can’t shoot through those things because somehow everything lands up as though smeared with vaseline. Oh how I wish for a chance to shoot through one of those 30×20″ Gulfstream windows… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S, 50/1.8 S and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

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Photoessay: California light

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I’m pretty sure I’ve remarked previously on the particular quality of light that places of moderate latitudes by a sea seem to have – the other two that come to mind are Lisbon and Tokyo. I think it’s characterised by a few things: a clear and directionality of shadow (but not quite the same harshness one gets from direct overhead light in the tropics); coloration at either end of the day from the evaporated moisture in the air filtering light from low angles creating the kind of skies people pay a lot of money to emulate with filters; and lastly, a sort of almost overintensity of color. Everything feels saturated and hyper-real, but at the same time not garish. A tricky thing to reproduce digitally, especially in colours which reside almost entirely in one channel – the reds of cars parked in bright sunshine, the intense blue of a late afternoon sky – yet these are the little subliminal visual cues that tell us where we are, and make us long for the sea. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S, 50/1.8 S and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

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