To be a specialist, you have to be a good generalist

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Here’s today’s provocation of the day: there is really no such thing as a specialist. I’m going to explain why, using photography as the background context. The general expectation is a specialist in one particular topic or subject or tightly defined discipline should be familiar with and understand how to handle the vast majority of variations encountered around that topic or subject. They would probably have to keep up to date with new developments or changes and do enough experimentation to answer any self-doubt or uncertainty: an expert sports photographer, for instance, would know how to deal with indoor arena lighting, outdoor high noon and night games – and still produce an image that would pass muster for their clients. An aerial photographer would know how to deal with haze – either to minimise in post, or to use as a feature of the image. Yet I keep encountering this odd resistance…even amongst supposedly educated and image-savvy people. Why?

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Shutter therapy in Phnom Penh

Life has been incredibly hectic lately, so when my friend Amir randomly asked if I was down for a short holiday to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I immediately jumped at it. It was not planned as a photography trip and we were there simply to catch up with old friends and drink as much cheap beer as we could. However, it’s inevitable that I squeeze time for shutter therapy, especially in a city I haven’t been to before.

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Photoessay: life in Istanbul

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I did a little curation experiment with this set: it’s been more than six months since I shot these images in Istanbul, and perhaps four or more since I last looked at them. What’s interesting is that my memory has definitely warped over time: both in terms of what left the strongest impressions, and what I felt made the strongest images. This far away from the time of capture, we are definitely over what I think of as the ‘objective’ period – it’s so long ago you might as well almost be an independent observer. This means the immediate contextual bias is gone and emotion doesn’t drive selection – but rather the reverse; i.e. the image serves as an emotional mnemonic. I do notice now that the majority of the images seem to carry a very bittersweet feeling – there’s a suggestion of positivity through light, color or something else – but the posture of the people seems tense and at odds with that. I can’t say if that was an accurate portrayal of society at the time of my visit (it may well have been, given the referendum was happening at the same time) or merely a reflection of my own mental state. MT

Series shot in Istanbul with a Hasselblad H6D-100c and various lenses, and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Suburban geometry, part I

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Am I the only one who finds it odd that a) we are of organic, irregular shape and yet b) create our environments to be as regular and inorganic as possible – even with the possibilities long afforded to us by modern manufacturing methods, we stick to at best a greatly reduced and simplified facsimile of nature? Furthermore, all suburban environments have become so similar I don’t know whether to think of it as fairness, aspiration to the same standards or a homogenous dystopia. Case in point: these images were shot in no less than six cities, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance (and there is also a massive curation bias that is involved in removing any localising elements, of course). This is especially true as configurations and details simplify into what is cheapest to build, easiest to maintain or least likely to cause offence. Chasing uniqueness in the photography of urban exploration has become a challenge not so much to find unusual locations so much as a race against the shadows for the flaneur – perhaps, much as it should be. MT

This series was shot with an assortment of cameras and lenses over a fairly wide period of time, but all post processed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III and the Weekly Workflow.

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Photoessay: cityscape Istanbul

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At the macro level, the structure of a city has always seemed much cleaner and more organised than when you get in it – there’s a sort of fractal perfection of the wimmelbild kind where the overall visual density is quite homogenous within all of the areas that can be build upon. It’s as though we seek to fill and exploit every possible space available to us – and in doing so, make something that’s always reminded me of a carpet or a lawn: from a distance, regular, but close up, completely random. I’m sure if we were to take the site of any of the world’s major cities and start again, the result would be extremely different from what we have now (and in some cases, perhaps wouldn’t exist at all – building below sea level, for instance, is probably not a such a good idea in the long run). At a more pragmatic level, we never quite made it to the far side of the strait – next time…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Tips to improve your photography using what you’ve got

We constantly find excuses to justify the purchase of new, more expensive camera gear. However, it is important to remind ourselves from time to time that simply upgrading  gear does not improve our photography. The greatest weapon a photographer possesses is their vision – how they see the world around them, with their unique artistic sense and perspective.

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Photoessay: Eastern melancholy, part II

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Continued from part I

Much further east, but still considered ‘eastern’ relative to other parts of the world – I shot these in Tokyo a month ago (at the time of writing) and very much remembered how I felt: the usual excitement of being in Tokyo, the anticipation of a reset in culture and scenery, and some slight dread for my wallet thanks to the camera havens of Shinjuku. Aside from that, certainly not what I seem to have captured: a sort of ‘quiet resignation to the task at hand no matter how bad or what it is’ – rather than the same sort of slightly uncertain edginess in Istanbul. Cultural? Perhaps. Or perhaps somebody in the audience is going to tell me there are things I have deeply repressed…MT

This series was shot in Tokyo with a Panasonic GX85, various M4/3 lenses, and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass Workflow. Get more out of your voyages with T1: Travel Photography.

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Photoessay: Eastern melancholy, part I

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Every image is a reflection of the photographer’s state of mind at the time of capture; we see and interpret the world through a lens of personal bias. We either notice things that are extremely in sync with us – or extremely opposite. It is difficult to say whether the collective feeling exists or we are simply applying tunnel vision to only notice what we want to see. Going back to curate through one’s archives tends to yield very telling glimpses into your psyche at the time, and something much easier to see objectively in hindsight. These images were shot more than six months ago, but reviewing the entire set yields an almost manic split between the bright, cheerful and happy, and the downright depressing. I honestly don’t remember what I was feeling at the time – probably not strongly positive or negative – but mainly that the environment was so different that it was rather difficult to ‘be a mirror’ and let the images come rather than looking for them. What’ll be interesting is the counterpoint part II post… MT

This series was shot in Istanbul with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 50, 100 and 150mm lenses, and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass Workflow. Get more out of your voyages with T1: Travel Photography.

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Photoessay: Evening in Manchester

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For reasons I can’t explain, the weather on this particular evening kept making me expect Sherlock Holmes (or his modern equivalent) to pop out from behind a corner, especially as the sun set. Not a bit of fog in sight, and I wasn’t in London, but perhaps it was the combination of the architecture and a slight drizzle. Unfortunately, the only afternoon/evening I had free to shoot wasn’t exactly the best for light, but we learn to make do (and curate ruthlessly, knowing that the locals will always be playing with a light advantage). This was the first time in some time I was travelling light – just one X1D and a couple of lenses. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have my photography brain switched on since that wasn’t the point of this trip, but this is the specific reason I’m posting this set: almost everything you see here in photoessay form is the curated result of a conscious effort at taking pictures; very rarely do I not do this. However, I recognise that this is probably closer to the way most readers’ photographic opportunities arise – a spare hour here and there – and I thought it might be useful to see what can be done even with limited time. MT

These images were shot in Manchester with a Hasselblad X1D-50c and 90mm, and post processed with PS Workflow III and the Weekly Workflow. See more on your journeys with T1: Travel Photography and the How to See series.

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Roaming Kuching’s streets with the Canon EOS M6

Since my review of the Canon EOS-M6, I’ve had few more days with the camera before having to return it to Canon Malaysia. I brought the camera home to Kuching (in Borneo) for a short weekend trip. I was going back for a collective exhibition featuring local photographers. I managed to find time for some shutter therapy in the midst of my busy schedule – most of this time was spent with my beloved mum or catching up with friends. For these short shutter therapy sessions, I decided to give the Canon M6 another spin.

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