Photoessay: Repetition in high key

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Perhaps repetition is the wrong word; riffs on a theme might be more apt. Pay close attention to the sequencing of the images and you’ll notice the key lines flow up down along diagonals that provide continuity between frames; in this way the repetition and structure extends beyond the individual image to the entire set. The tonal bias is mostly high key and cool, but even then there are slight variations to hint at different moods*. I think of it almost as a rising and falling of music that smoothly transitions between passages. Still, the outer covering merely disguises the fact that the underlying structures themselves are the usual rectangular blocks; it’s simply not economical to make something that isn’t regular (not to mention producing spaces that are highly inefficient). These are after all public buildings in the administrative centre of the country; a little decorative facade cladding is fine, but let’s not go too far overboard. MT

*I’m very pleased with the tonality from this series; there’s something about the light openness of the mid and highlight tones that I’ve only been able to achieve with medium format up to this point – but it might also be because I’ve had a strong preference for darker, richer tones. Think oil painting vs watercolour.

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and AF-P 70-300 DX VR, and is a mix of SOOC JPEG and edited raw using Photoshop Workflow III.

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Appreciating urbanscapes and structures

Urban geometry, structures and shapes are normally found in MT’s photoessays, but I thought I’d take a jab at it. While MT travels a lot more, I do most of my shooting locally in Kuala Lumpur. I admit I don’t actively seek out heavily compressed shots of buildings and structures but my default lens when shooting on the street is the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8, which enables decent isolation and compression. From time to time, the visual drama is just so appealing that I have to frame for a tighter perspective. My previous work experience as a Civil Engineer and being involved in the local construction industry also allows me to appreciate architectural design and beauty more, now that I am no longer an engineer. The thing about photography is, we sometimes need to open our eyes and appreciate the beauty around us – regardless of the form it takes.

All images were shot on various cameras and lenses, mostly a variant of an Olympus OM-D with either M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 or 25mm F1.8 lens.

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Photoessay: Growing up

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I have come to the conclusion that four year olds are mostly like uninhibited adults. At least mine seems to be; I suppose their actions make sense in their minds with their limited understanding of the world, and when you disagree – there will be hell to pay because there is no way anything could possibly be different to how they have imagined. (Arguably, this is the same with a lot of supposedly fully grown adults I have to deal with, too.) There are moments when they are remarkably mature and self-sufficient; there are others when we are reminded that they sleep the sleep of innocents and don’t carry any of the worries of reality. They are a bundle of nerves and listen almost solely to the lizard brain. There is no self control and that leaves parents torn between the short term pain of trying to impose it, and the long term gain of raising a person who doesn’t bang tables to get their way. Just looking at these images has driven home though how much she’s matured over the past year, though she probably won’t be self-sufficient for another 15 years or more – and getting seemingly longer with every generation. To think there are entire species whose lifespans are much shorter than the past four years; and intelligent ones who are fully mature and ‘adult’ after just one or two years. We humans are probably the only species with the luxury to explore and pursue something higher up the pyramid of needs than mere sustenance and survival – we should not waste it on pointless diversions… MT

Shot over the last year, mostly with the Nikon Z7 and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

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On Assignment photoessay: Automated building

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Some time back, I was given a rather interesting commission by a large local industrial conglomerate: to photograph their automated building facility. The factory uses an automated system to lay up wall, floor and ceiling units for modular buildings according to plan; these precast slabs are then simply installed on site, with reinforcement, connections, conduits for piping and electricals etc. all laid up and ready to go. The surfaces are finished during the production process, and unlike cast in place or brick-types, do not require additional plaster or skimming for a very consistent and precise finish. Interestingly, I was told that below a certain scale this is a more expensive process for building than traditional manual labor, but the overall quality is much higher (and it begins to make sense for large developments). From a photographic standpoint, the completed slab stockyard was very enjoyable – no end of shadows/ geometries/ strong colors/ details and all of the things that make for interesting vignettes and artistic experimentation; the factory was much more challenging due to the lighting.

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Computational photography: what ‘format’ is it?

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Gratuitous header; moment of enlightenment.

One of the unavoidable buzzwords of the last couple of years has been ‘computational photography’. Besides sounding slightly oxymoronic and insulting to the ‘real’ photographer who presumably represents what they see and doesn’t attempt to manipulate objects into (or out of) being that aren’t physically there, the reality is that it’s unavoidable and has been unavoidable since the start of the digital era. Everything that requires photons to be converted into electrical signals and back to photons again (whether off a display or reflected off a print) – must be mathematically interpreted and altered in some form before output. It is not possible to avoid this: the Bayer interpolation, in-camera JPEG conversions, any file format saving, conversion to print color space – a ‘computation’ has to be performed to translate the data. Hell, there’s already an implicit computation in the analog to digital stage (although arguably photons are already ‘digital’ since they represent discrete quanta of energy, but that’s another discussion for another time). However, what I’d like to discuss today* is something one step further down that road, and following on from the previous posts on format illusions: in light of the broader possibilities of computational photography, what does ‘format’ even mean?

*I.e. excluding things like subject recognition for tracking, depth mapping and simulated shallow DOF transitions etc. for the time being; we’ll revisit that later.

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Photoessay: Of canopies and curves

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There’s a collection of rather strange but interesting architecture within the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur; it was built at different times but is surprisingly coherent. None of it is used much, but at least it’s visually interesting. I presume it must be intentional that the curves somewhat mirror the canopies of the trees; it would be hard to think of any other reason to make construction this difficult (especially in a country not known for either exacting standards or quality builders). Can’t be good for the trees though, since the enclosed ones don’t seem to be doing quite as well as those out in the open. I had a sense of deja vu walking through here – the forms are oddly reminiscent of The Garden of Cosmic Speculation but without the massive earthworks, or the underlying cosmological references. Still, as a respite from the functionally boring boxes popular here, I’m not complaining. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and AF-P 10-20/4.5-5.6 DX VR, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Colorlumpur

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Today, a slight disjointed set of wimmelbild-esque urban vignettes. I’m pretty sure at a subconscious level my attraction to these scenes was the variety of textures present in each; they also happened to make a good variety of test subjects in my usual preferred kind of hard light to to see if I’d managed to match the Z7’s SOOC JPEG curve tuning to the ‘normal’ workflow I’ve used up to this point. I think a little more work might be required to fine tune things, but there’s something quite attractive about how the lower midtones are being handled; the tonal richness is there. It was also a rare opportunity to shoot the old part Kuala Lumpur in this kind of light – I find it really makes you look at the city in a different way, especially if you can manage to disconnect a little and pretend you’re somewhere completely new. Turns out it isn’t that difficult to do if you haven’t been to this part of town in six months… MT

This series was shot with mostly a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and my color SOOC profile; there are a few other singles from other cameras I had sitting around that I could never quite coherently place in a set until now. Those were processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: A Japanese puzzle

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The precision with which Japanese cities come together has always felt like akin to a puzzle with a thousand architects – though things appear chaotic at first, there is a sense of underlying deliberation and precision probably borne from just how clean each individual element tends to be, and how neatly it slots into place whilst respecting the space of its surrounding neighbours. Perhaps it is a metaphor for Japanese society in a nutshell – which makes sense, given cities are a reflection of their inhabitants (and unfortunately this isn’t always a good thing). I have always been drawn to wimmelbild-type scenes like this in any city as they feel to capture a good sense of the essence and mood of a city without resorting to using distinctive landmarks for identification – if done well, you should know where you are without having to search for street signs… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120VR and processed with Photoshop Workflow III – the images predate the custom presets, though these would have worked fine, too.

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Back to basics: Layering

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Judging from the correspondence and comments flying around recently, it’s about time we did a refresher course here on the fundamentals of composition and image-making. As usual, there’s far too much obsession over hardware and not enough thought about what it’s actually being used for. This will be the first of several posts from the archives in this theme. That said, those people are unlikely to read these posts anyway…

There are two obvious definitions to layering: the literal splitting of the frame into planes of different distances, and the metaphorical addition of implied meaning through careful choice of subjects and subject placement. Ideally, an image should employ both to reward the viewer on further contemplation and to provide a visual that isn’t overly literal or one-dimensional. Unquestionably, a degree of ambiguity is required too, especially when working with implied meaning. But how can we consistently make images that fire on all cylinders?

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Photoessay: Structured

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As the the title suggests, the images in today’s post were curated by pattern, spatial frequency and something that probably has a formal architectural name that I’m not aware of – but tend to think of as ‘orders of complexity’. We got from rectangles to triangles and tetrahedrals; uniform to recursive; compound straight shapes to arcs and arches and on to organic forms. These forms take on a rhythm and get more complex, but then distill and simplify down into something more focused and massive. In a way, it feels a lot like the thought process behind designing a watch…

This series shot with a Nikon D3500, AF-P 10-20 DX VR, AF-P 18-55 DX VR II, AF-P 70-300 DX VR. SOOC JPEG.

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