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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New year’s resolutions, 2019 edition

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Perhaps a more accurate title for today’s post isn’t so much ‘resolutions’ as ‘expectations’. I like to think that after a while in the same industry*, one acquires the maturity to know what you want to do, what you can do, and what you realistically might be able to expect. Here’s my plan for 2019, both photographic and otherwise. Some stuff I’ll have already said to various individuals or gotten lost in various comments, but as yet things have not been unified. So, to hopefully stem the tide of ‘are you going to x’ emails, here goes…

*Shooting since 2001, for clients part time since 2005, and full time since 2012 – that’s a good 18, 14 or 7 years, depending on how you want to measure it. Even 7 years in the digital era is an age given how fast things change.

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Photoessay: Window seat II

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One day, I promise I’ll do a post of images shot through dirty windows, but it’s just not as interesting most of the time – and it’s difficult to not make it come across more like a hipster filter. I don’t know if I’m the only person to spend most of the flight anxiously gazing out of the window in case I miss something interesting (and annoying the passengers around me who are trying to sleep by having the only open shade in the cabin) – but at least the scrolling scenery makes the flight go a bit faster. As we’ve discussed in the past, picking the right side of the aircraft is crucial – you don’t want to be shooting into the sun simply because all of the crap that’s going to reflect off the micro scratches in the windows, robbing contrast and leaving all sorts of strange artefacts. I’m also increasingly finding myself torn between a larger format for better color (not dynamic range in this case; the windows lower contrast to the point it doesn’t really matter much) or a smaller format for higher shutter speeds (f2.8 on M4/3 is sufficient to keep everything in focus at infinity, and lenses are usually very sharp cross-frame by this point too) as the light falls. I’ve had good and bad results from both options in pretty much equal measure. The one thing I haven’t been able to do consistently yet – because of the aircraft motion – is get a decent image in very low twilight or at night; there’s both simply no way to get enough shutter speed or block out light from the cabin. As with all things, more practice is required…MT

Shot over far too many flights with a wide variety of hardware, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III – you can’t do SOOC JPEG for these because there just isn’t enough contrast thanks to all that glass and perspex.

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The most important things in photography

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In the better part of 17 years’ worth of shooting – there are just a few critical things I find are inescapable when taking the shot. I perhaps have the benefit of having gone full circle a couple of times around the effort and equipment wheel, and shifting priorities force me to work both faster and smarter. Please note that the descriptions following have some subtlety and may at first seem contradictory, but bear with me…

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Working with overcast light

When the weather is overcast and light is not great, street photographers (myself included) usually lose motivation to continue shooting. After all, light plays a vital role in producing results. With less than ideal lighting, there is no opportunity for the widely practiced deep shadow and highlight play, silhouette shots or even dramatic high contrast shots, both in color or black and white. I do envy photographers in regions further away from the tropics (Japan, Australia, Northern European countries), where directional beautiful light is more common and present for an extended period of the day. In Malaysia where I reside, if there isn’t tropical afternoon showers, then we have to contend with haze or harsh light for most of the day. Directional and interesting light is confined to mornings and just before sunset.

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MT’s scrapbook: Duo

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I happened to be staying at the hotel in this rather interesting property a couple of months back; whilst I don’t think I’d want to live here (there are apartments in one of the other towers) because it feels a bit cold and impersonal – the architects did a good job breaking up the potentially overbearingly massive geometric forms with cladding and ground landscaping, so you never feel that dominance at ground level. There’s no question some very clever structural engineering was involved to make the masses balance (and to install that curtain wall). The interior spaces are strange though – despite the size of the building, they never feel very large inside; I don’t know if this is due to the internal space division or the very non-square geometry. Still, it made for a pleasant half an hour or so’s worth of diversion wandering around and hunting for images. 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). One or two were reprocessed to match the rest of the set using The Monochrome Masterclass workflow, for visual consistency and correction of verticals.

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Photoessay: vignettes of melancholy and longing

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Here’s a slightly unusual (and personal) curation, matching my usual mood: I hugely cut down the amount of travel I’ve been doing (after pretty much ten years of non stop, at least twice a month work trips), starting in the second half of 2017 and continuing on to 2018. But the last couple of months have reminded me precisely why I made that choice: yes, you get to do some fun stuff, but it’s also fatiguing, you don’t see your family (worse, if your wife happens to have an opposite travel schedule which means you’re never in the same place at the same time), hotels are soulless, and working off a laptop with a malfunction keyboard (hello, double alphabets) and trackpad (goodbye, click!) when you’re used to a dual screen 27″-32″ setup is positively claustrophobic (and unproductive). Hell, I even miss my car and my polar bears. Sometimes these feelings concentrate, and leave you with an odd sort of creative inspiration that makes you search the back catalog and realise that at some point – many points, really – in your previous travels, you’ve felt exactly the same way. And it somehow made you a little creative at the time. And I have to say, in an odd way – that cheered me up. 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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