Creative envelope

_Z716170 copy

I’ve discussed the meaning of shooting envelope at length in the past. This is a practical, quantitative limit which effectively determines the conditions under which you can get an image of acceptable quality – usually, we apply it specifically to situations with one core constraint; either that the image must be made handheld, there are moving elements that have to be frozen, distance limits etc or something else. It applies indirectly to creative limits, too – if you want to make an image under certain creative (as opposed to physical) constraints, then one must seriously consider strengths and limitations of various possible bits of hardware. Put simply: I think of ‘creative envelope’ as the hardware’s ability to support the limits of my imagination. And this factor more than anything else has always been the underlying driver of purchasing decisions for me. I just realise I’ve never really explained it until today, undoubtedly leading to a lot of incorrect accusations of being a gear whore. What I intend to do today is explain the key factors that I consider for my own needs – yours may of course vary or change priority depending on what you prefer to shoot. I’ll also throw in a curveball: my best or most enabling purchase in each category to date.

[Read more…]

Photoessay: Design objects

_Z738427 copy

At the Trienniale in Milan, there is a collection of everyday use design objects from the 20th century that represent perhaps the best and worst of their eras: things that were wildly over designed and over made and overoptimistic for what they would be used for; elaborate celebrations of new technology (like digital calculators) that clearly took a lot of effort and would eventually prove to be quite transient. There are objects that appear to have transcended time because they are still sold and used today; undoubtedly in use because of both form and function, and a testament to how good the original design was. Both sides are very interesting: not just as objects, but as social commentary of the era and what people thought the future might be like. Some were uncannily accurate and foresightful, and some perhaps didn’t even consider the actual use cases or human ergonomics…but all were at least interesting in form and color. MT

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

[Read more…]

Photoessay: Driver’s seat

_Z737559 copy

As a person who can spend hours shooting a single interesting car – having an entire museum full of dozens (possibly over a hundred, I didn’t count) of them made me both more excited than the proverbial kid in a candy store, but also highly anxious about potentially missing something or not really doing a particular line or detail justice. There was just so much to take in – nobody does car design quite like the Italians, and outside of Ferrari there’s probably no better representation of the diversity of vintage to modern style than Alfa Romeo. Clearly, something has been lost in the modern production process – it is understandably impossible to beat aluminium panels by hand over formwork at an industrial scale – but whatever automated process has replaced this, the lines of modern cars just can’t seem to replicate the understand elegance that continued up to about the late 60s. The 8C came very close, but clearly had compromises engineered in for safety, limitations of metal pressing etc. Don’t get me wrong, there are huge advantages to the modern production methods – such as symmetry (most of these cars were clearly NOT symmetric left to right, visible when standing at the front or rear centrelines) and interchangeability of parts – but there really was something special about the metal on show here. I initially went as a petrolhead and spent most of my time looking at the lines and proportions as a designer; to figure out exactly what it was in the ratios, angles and curves that make an object visually appealing – and moreover, if I could somehow apply that to watch design. For sure, it’s a much smaller object with much less external detailing and complex curves are significantly more difficult to model in CAD than regular shapes, but I’m pretty sure there’s something fermenting at a subconscious level. Time will tell…MT

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

[Read more…]

Repost: Design, photography and visual priorities

17.03 front rough 6 full res copy

Today’s repost is specifically intended to cue up your design sensibilities in advance of the next two photoessays, and put into context why I find these things so darn fascinating.

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.

[Read more…]

Photoessay: Navigli

_Z738505 copy

The Navigli is a series of canals around Milan originally dug and used to transport marble for the Duomo; it’s now a bohemian area full of restaurants, bars, and boutiques that only seem to open at 6pm. Sheltered from any actual tidal effects and even most of the ambient wind by buildings and banks, the canal’s waters have an interestingly slow, inky mirror quality to them.  I went relatively early to try and balance the ambient sunset (overcast) with the lights of the buildings, but landed up making a critical miscalculation as it turns out nobody eats til much later, and consequently it’s either light or people/activity (and of course food) – but not both. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 85/1.8 S and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

[Read more…]

Photoessay: Blue gulf

_Z733847 copy

Flying in and out of Doha is pretty spectacular – not just because of the flight path around Doha itself, but the route taken up the Arab Gulf thanks to Qatar’s…’issues’ with its neighbours. The  intense blue and cyan colors of the sea contrast spectacularly with the desert sand; made even more intense by sunshine unblocked by clouds. The amount of terraforming and reclamation that’s happened in the whole area is an impressive testament to the money flowing out of the ground – and modern engineering. Oddly enough, it reminded me of the set I shot over the Sunset Coast of Western Australia. I always try to fly this route simply because the view is spectacular and occupies at least an hour of the flight; fortunately this time I lucked out with a plane with windows that were both new/clean and didn’t have that annoying dimmable LED shade that looks clear, but actually is completely impossible to shoot through. MT

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

[Read more…]

Near misses

_3501970 copy

Today’s thoughts are on a slightly unusual topic, especially;y given my usual obsession with curation – after all, your audience can only see the work you choose to show, not all of the work you shot. I also realise that I say plenty about what I believe a good photograph should include and exclude, but not a lot about why some things don’t work – and worse, what constitutes the kind of near miss that I’d reject (or at very least, not show at all). So, at the risk of showing the ugly side – today’s post is illustrated with images of mine that seemed good in theory, but didn’t make the cut in execution for whatever reason. It’s probably also helpful to talk through the initial idea at capture and some of the context – this is not always obvious, and often the reason of an image’s failure to meet the intent of its creator.

Let’s take the header image, for starters: in person, there was very strong layering created on the physical background objects due to the angle and intensity of the sun; the shadows were perceived to be almost as dense and solid as the physical objects themselves. Moreover, the sense of spatial separation between shadow, physical object and reflection off the floor was a lot stronger than in the image, no matter how it was processed. I had to increase black density to give the shadows the same sense of solidity, desaturate to create abstraction and remove the distraction of certain color highlights in various portions of the image, but somehow lost that sense of spatial separation. I don’t believe it’s a tonal zone problem, because the shadow, reflection and physical object zones only overlap just enough to create continuity in the image (say I-IV, IV-VII and VI-X respectively).

The problem is actually a physiological one on the part of the viewer – both viewer of the scene and viewer of the image – in that the focal planes of the various elements are slightly different (reflection effectively further away) but the overall focal distance is quite close, meaning that 3D spatial perception from two eyes comes into play. This is a large contributor to our perception of depth and dimensionality – especially when it comes to reflections in objects, since they are further away than the (physical) foreground. Using depth of field cues to suggest separation does not work as you lose definition that your eyes have – and which creates that sense of surrealism of superimposed objects or images. Conflictingly, I am attracted to these kinds of subjects for precisely that reason; unfortunately, they rarely work in 2D capture.

[Read more…]

Photoessay: Enclosed

_Z702389 copy

It felt appropriate to follow on from the previous post of ornamental architecture with this – a sort of evolution towards function (but ultimately, still with the primary purpose of entertainment-generated revenue). Whilst the Hudson Yards structure leaves the visitor to fill it with their own imagination and selfies, Gardens by The Bay defines the contents for you: nature, sanitised and presented in a consumer-friendly manner, complete with gift shop. In a way, it’s philosophically very similar to Singapore in general: efficient, stylised, modern, clean, but somewhat, well, rigid. Maybe it just feels strange to have trees inside a dome; no matter how well presented. Surely we aren’t at the point where nature is so scarce even in the developing tropics that we need to treat it as ornamental…or perhaps this is the only way some people can be motivated to appreciate nature in the first place at all. Between the weather and the underlying sentiment…I intentionally chose a heavier, darker presentation which I think conveys the mood quite well. MT

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

[Read more…]

Photoessay: Vessel

_Z725777 copy

Hudson Yards’ has a) been photographed to death, usually with an ultra wide and from the inside, b) appears to serve no function other than to allow surrounding buildings to have increased density and have the overall project meet plot ratio restrictions, and c) seems to be created solely for the purpose of Instagram. I didn’t feel like paying the entry fee and surrendering the rights to my images, plus it was raining and miserable (and queues were still long despite this) – so with limited time between meetings, I circumnavigated the structure a few times and made the most of it. It reminded me of nothing so much as an enormous beehive – the warm honey color probably didn’t do it any favours either – but I think the architects made a smart choice by putting the polished copper on the underside and tapering it towards the base so it stays clean; good thing seeing as I have no idea how you’d clean this effectively, either. Perhaps I was a bit harsh with my initial judgement; let’s say it’s a good thing that there are still structures made solely for the sake of art over function. That said, I would love to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where the initial concept sketches would have been presented… MT

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

[Read more…]

Reasons I photograph, 2020 edition

_3503987 copy

In the past, I’ve written about both personal and general motivations for photographing; I’ve also discussed a sort of real time seeing checklist of sorts, which isn’t so much underlying reasons for picking up then camera as what we do once we have it in hand and that initial impetus has happened. In general, a given scene or subject must offer sufficient emotional or intellectual motivation to make us pick up the camera, aim it in the right direction and go through the whole process of both framing and curation* and the requisite effort. The more experienced one is as a photographer, the higher that threshold becomes because the number of subjects you’ve seen and/or photographed in the past only increases. One’s personal ‘activation energy’ increases, if you will. I’ve not only photographed a lot of things, but at this point in my career I’ve also photographed everything I’ve wanted to and beyond – so I figured it worthwhile to discuss what personally motivates me to get out the camera these days.

*Really, the same thing but one happens before the shutter is preset, and the other, after.

[Read more…]