Photoessay: Urban form

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Just as the previous photoessay focused on the distilled shapes and forms of the organic, today’s does the same for the inorganic. Hard shadows play off hard lines and angles and deep blacks create a sense of spatial discontinuity that turns the unknown into a solid anchor, intentionally inverting perception. Sorry, sometimes I forget I’m not writing for a society art critique. Most of the time, I just like the shapes. MT

This series was shot with the Nikon Z7 and contains SOOC JPEG images using my custom Picture Controls, available here. Similar results are available with other cameras by following the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Photoessay: Park form

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A walk in the park can sometimes be more than easy and better than creative – a refreshment of the mind and eye, and some good light to make things interesting. I’ve found myself working increasingly in monochrome these days to focus on forms and shapes and remove the distractions of color; there’s a time and place for it but the color really has to carry the story. In a high-density and high-contrast environment that’s monochromatic anyway – taking away the color pushes the eye towards the core of the story. MT

This series was shot with the Nikon Z7 and contains SOOC JPEG images using my custom Picture Controls, available here. Similar results are available with other cameras by following the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Photoessay: Shadow form

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When three dimensions collapse to two, the only way to infer spatial placement is by the position and overlap of shadows; this includes not just large macro-scale objects but also texture, which is nothing more than superposition of entitles at the micro-scale. No light, no shadows, no image, no spatial relativity. Yet the interesting ability of photography has only two interesting elements when collapsing dimensions: firstly, to reproduce exactly what we see (or think we see) and preserve an otherwise transient moment; secondly, projection that is unnatural or not normally noticed with stereo (i.e. human) vision – be it an exaggerated depth or a completely collapsed one. Expression or collapse in dimensionality is interesting because it almost lets us imagine what the universe might be like if we could perceive more than the standard four dimensions (three spatial, plus time). Either that or it’s the repressed physicist in me geeking out. MT

Images were shot with a mix of hardware over the last year and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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MT’s scrapbook: Angled

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Lots of hard light and pointy geometry today; to the point that many scenes are abstracted into making little spatial sense. The deep shadows constrain physically but open up ambiguity and leave you to come to your own reflections on what exactly has been hidden. Mostly shot around two buildings that come alive at the right time of day with the right light (but the buildings themselves in gross form are a bit simplistically monolithic and not very interesting). We’re a good few months into the SOOC JPEG experiment now, and so far it seems to be sticking…it is forcing me to adopt a rather filmic approach to photography and the subtle but important difference of imagining what can be now, rather than what can be with a little work. Interestingly, I find my compositional balance has improved since I am no longer thinking about fixing things in post with a gradient. It of course makes post processing somewhat easier since there is less local work to be done, but at the same time overall image quality is slightly compromised as I am exposing to output rather than to maximise data collection. Still, the tradeoff in time saved and other opportunities explored seems to be worthwhile so far… MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings).

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Photoessay: Monolumpur, part II

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Expand scale, pull out. Frame wider, environmental context. Continuation of testing, continuation of viewing my home city again with (hopefully) fresh eyes. This time, seeing if I’ve gotten the blend right: this set is a mix with the Pen-F, whose SOOC JPEG monochrome toning has been my benchmark for laziness thus far. I think I’ve managed to find something with the Nikon that keeps the overall global contrast profile, but manages to extend a bit more into the highlights for a smoother rolloff and less abrupt clipping. Shadow information is there, but has been crushed a little to fit my stylistic preferences. Even given there’s some selective curation here in light and sequencing – I think you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which… MT

This series was shot with an Olympus Pen F, 12-60/2.8-4 and Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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Photoessay: Monolumpur, part I

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Today’s set is an anonymity-bringing-scale field test around the old part of Kuala Lumpur (Robin’s usual hunting grounds, though I’m sure you’ll see we came back with very different material) of something I’ve been working on for the last couple of months: an attempt at tuning a universal monochrome profile to my preferred style for the Nikon Z7. Whilst the Z7 doesn’t have a direct curve adjustment in-camera, it’s possible to add your own if you use the ‘Nikon Picture Control Utility 2’ software. It takes the place of the contrast and brightness sliders (my guess, ‘contrast’ pushes down the midpoint of the curve, ‘brightness’ brings up the upper quadrant). However, be warned: it seems the mapping is much more aggressive than the input/output controls suggest, resulting in much more contrast than you’d expect, so go easy on the curve. The only explanation I can think of this is that it’s acting higher upstream in the processing chain than we are used to with a curve in post processing. This is a good part of why tuning a profile has taken so long; it also seems that you need to apply some d-lighting (Nikonspeak for fill) to get the right lower midtone luminosity. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results – and light was absolutely spectacular while I was shooting, which doesn’t do any harm either. Is the Pen F retired? If not yet, its days are certainly numbered. Now, on to the greater challenge of color… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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Photoessay: guess the format

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Or think of this as the first part of an intellectual exercise that will continue with an extended discussion in the next post. There are really only a few clues that decisively give away what format an image was shot on – and even then, many are lost merely in the process of preparing and displaying an image. This is because effectively every image captured has more information than we can view on most (common) output media. Yes, there are edge cases where the strengths of various formats/ systems (they’re not really separable) are necessary and make themselves seen, but those get fewer and fewer as technology improves as a whole. Curiously, what we photograph (i.e. the physical world) doesn’t change that much, if only because what interests us as humans doesn’t change that much…good luck with the guessing game! MT

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On-assignment photoessay: From the workbench

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I shot for one of my toughest clients recently: ourselves. Whilst there’s no pressure, we all have the desire to do better with every set – and there’s the friendly internal competition given that there are no fewer than five photographers amongst the founders’ group. I am of course talking about the watch business; this set was photographed at the facilities of our production partners Schwarz-Etienne in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, whilst a series of 19.01s and 19.02s underwent assembly, regulation and final quality control. I’ve shot this kind of thing before for many other brands, of course – but it feels very different when it’s your own name on the dial and movement… MT

Images were shot with an Olympus PEN F and Panasonic-Leica 12-60. Post processing with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow. Image of yours truly at the bench shot by my co-founder Dr. Magnus Bosse.

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Photoessay: Cityscape Tokyo

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The more you visit a city, the more your impressions change; that initial freshness and impact wears off into a sort of routine of the favourite places you like to visit while you’re there. Layered on top of this are the changes to the place itself, since no city is static – least of all somewhere like Tokyo. The latest instalment in the Cityscape series of retrospective curations has taken the longest to put together simply because I’ve got so many images from this place, from (at least) annual visits spanning the last 12 years. I realise that most of the early impressions no longer resonate with me as much as images shot in say the last four or five years, at most. This is the Tokyo I have in my mind now – one of density, activity, anonymity, details – but it won’t be the Tokyo I remember next year as I’m actually here at the moment with my family, and for the first time, our four year old – new memories are being made, new impressions formed, and it’s still too new to know what will stick. MT

Shot over a long, long period of time with a wide variety of equipment. Mostly processed with PS Workflow III.

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On-assignment photoessay: Preparations

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When on assignment, there are images you shoot to the brief, and the bonus ones you shoot for yourself: sometimes they aren’t really corporate safe or commercial-clean, but they have a something – texture, light, grit – that appeals to something personal. I always try to respond to these scenes in an instinctive way: just shoot, sort them out later, and package separately for your client in the hopes they might use them, or at least see and appreciate even if they don’t (because they don’t fit the look and palette you’ve already established). Still – I think all photographers need to feel moved in this kind of way; if you don’t, then the desire to experiment and create might not be as strong as it should be… MT

Images shot with a Nikon Z7/24-70 and D850/70-200/4, and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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