Bigger isn’t always better, or why you can’t see the difference most of the time

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Quasi-gratuitous header image: large format golfball, anybody?

I start this article with a deliberately provocative title, at the risk of being taken for one of those forum sensationalists that proclaims OMG NEW BEST CAMERAR EVARRRR SINCE THE SECOND COMING OF SLICED JESUS!! . But as always, there are caveats: I’m examining the situation under practical implementation, practical shooting constraints, and real world limitations: i.e. non-ideal circumstances, which I believe to be fair since this is how most photography takes place. And since we’re interested in hardware towards the practical application and implementation of photography, this is a fair approach to take. The crux of the argument is this: we have now reached a point in technology where the tradeoffs associated with upscaling your format do not translate into significant gains in shooting envelope or even practical output most of the time. Actually, I’d go even further and say that your hardware choices really hinge on a few factors, which we’ll discuss shortly.

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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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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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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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Robin’s fisheye adventures

Firstly – a happy Lunar New Year to all our readers!

Fisheye lenses fall in the love-it-or-hate-it category – there is no middle ground. The excessive distortion is not widely accepted and frankly does not work for many scenarios. I was curious about how I would approach street shooting with such a lens as it would, no doubt, change my execution in street shooting by forcing me to look for different subjects and compose my scenes differently. I found that I needed to be more careful in my framing as the lens can fit in more than intended. Also, to find subjects and scenes that work well with fisheye is a huge challenge in itself. I used the Olympus M.Zuiko 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO lens for all images in this article.

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Off-camera lighting 101: the ‘five things’

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I frequently get asked about lighting: specifically, how does one best approach the daunting challenge of knowing where to put what lights, how to set them up, use modifiers etc. I’ve written about some of this in the past but realise that I never tackled conceptually where to start. Fear not: in true Ming style, it’s now a list of Five Things 😉 Though the whole process of conceptualisation and setup becomes increasingly intuitive over time and practice, I still find that this list helps quite a lot when you’re either a) working with very complex setups where multiple lights can start creating interference with each other, or b) trying to simplify. Remember, a shadow does several things: it provides spatial context for three dimensional placement of subjects in a two dimensional presentation; it creates texture; and it provides separation and definition from the background. The more complex the lighting setup, the less well defined the shadows are going to be. Ultimately, the purpose of any controlled lighting setup is to place the shadows where you want them to go, and control the relative brightness of the subject elements, allowing you to precisely manipulate the structure of your image so that it is ‘read’ by your audience in a certain way.

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Photoessay: nocturnal impressions of Hong Kong

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You know a place has something on you if you want to go out and shoot to relax after spending the whole day…shooting on assignment. In this case a very different sort of work, and the kind of thing one can shoot in flow/ stream of consciousness; you react instinctively and don’t think too much about the scene. I look at the structure and the main highlights – note, not subjects, since the image is more of a vignette of a feeling than a specific description of a subject – balance the composition, and then shoot accordingly. There’s one kicker: I shot everything at ISO 64, handheld, relying on the stabiliser of the Z7 and the large amount of ambient light. I must have been inspired by Robin’s experiment some time back, but in this case I was deliberately seeking out motion, layers and wimmelbild to convey the impression of busyness and activity, but with the sort of surreal detachment that a monochrome presentation suggests. The emotional impact of color is not present, and one feels a bit colder and more objective or separated from the scene; an observer rather than a participant – which matches my feelings in places like this. I shot something like 500 frames that evening. This is my selection. MT

Images shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70, and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass workflow. There are also one or two camera JPEGs in there, and I now have a very similar SOOC picture control pack available here.

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Photoessay: Tropical

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Think of today’s post as a mid-winter pick-me-up for those of you living in the northern hemisphere, a celebration of summer for those in the southern, and a reminder of why we live in the tropics for those of us on the equator. I know I’m remembering the time I shot these fondly, and wishing very much I could go back there sooner rather than later… MT

Images shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III. There are also a couple of camera JPEGs thrown in there to keep you guessing…

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Robin’s event photography tips

A large portion of my work as a commercial photographer is event coverage. I have covered events ranging from a private birthday party to a large corporate event with almost a thousand attendees. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to event photography but I have learned so much from my experience and I would like to share some of these tips today. A lot of these discussions revolve more around your attitude and approach as a photographer than the actual technical execution. I shall focus on how to minimize mistakes and be as prepared as you possibly can for any unexpected developments.

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Photoessay: Forest in the city

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Recently reopened, Taman Tugu is a surprisingly large park in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. It’s unique for being a rehabilitated secondary rainforest: for decades it had been used as a fly tipping site; literally hundreds of tons of rubbish and debris were removed from the hilly area by hand, and native species brought in to accelerate the repopulation of the forest and close up the canopy. Despite being effectively a manmade park, it has the feel of being completely natural other than a couple of prepared trails and benches; this is completely different from any of the other parks or reserves in Kuala Lumpur, and made to feel even more surreal due to the location – you’re barely two or three kilometres from the city centre, but once inside the park you hear nothing but birds and insects. It’s an amazingly tranquil feeling and I think something quite unusual for an urban area. The only other analog ambience-wise that comes to mind is the Nezumuseum garden in Tokyo; but that’s obviously a completely manmade garden, though the style is less formal than your traditional Japanese construction. Both however have the same sort of underlying feeling of structured chaos – an organic natural-ness overlaid on top of something more organised. To have something this close to home is very special indeed, and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Kuala Lumpur (but bring mosquito repellent). In this series I’ve tried to capture vignettes of that feeling, though this turned out to be more difficult than imagined…

This set was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 S and processed with Photoshop Workflow III and the Monochrome Masterclass.

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