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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Back to basics: Structure

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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…

I’ve put off writing this article for a very, very long time for the simple reason that there are visual things that I have to figure out how to explain which somewhat transcend the limits of the written language to describe. Even defining the meaning of ‘structure’ in a photographic sense is tricky: we understand it to be a system of support that is not necessarily seen but underpins what we see on the surface – both physical and metaphysical. It is the means by which order is created out of chaos. Photographically, I like to think of ‘the structure of an image’ as the flow or visual rhythm of elements. Controlling the structure of an image controls the order in which the elements are read, and in turn the idea or story implied by those elements. Without conscious management of structure, it is therefore very difficult to consistently create images with anything more than a very literal impact.

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On-Assignment photoessay: Welders

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I am pathologically attracted to welding. It’s the photographers’ analog to a moth being drawn to a flame, or in this case either an oxyacetylene torch or plasma arc. My theory is that it has to do with a) light and b) unusual light. How often do you see somebody focusing intently on what is essentially a continuously powered, almost unidirectional flash? You can’t help but look. The radiating shadows created by that harsh light create all sorts of leading lines that force your eyes to the source: man and fire. It’s visually epic in a Metropolis sort of way; the Rocketman-esque helmets do nothing to detract from this, making the whole thing simply impossible to turn away from. It’s probably the reason my eyes have floaters, and some of my sensors have burn marks. But in monochrome it also tells a timeless story of man’s desire to build something great from the sum of much lesser components. And for nothing if that reason, we must bear witness to these things coming to life. MT

Shot over a very long period of time over a large number of construction and heavy engineering assignments, with various hardware from 6×6 film to micro 4/3 to MF digital and everything in between…

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Photoessay: At the food trucks, under the power lines

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I realise this is an exceptionally strange title for a post; almost whimsically offbeat Murakami in flavour. But sometimes you go to try something different for diner, and come back with a full memory card instead of a full stomach. Something about the atmosphere struck me as poignant: a little sad and wannabe hip, but still with distant threads of aspiration and hope. (I suspect the reason for this is as with everything, Malaysia is late to the party: we criticise anything new that’s of local origins, but will be the second people to jump onto a hot overseas trend – go figure.) Mostly though, there are a lot of vignettes of waiting and going through the motions – what are the people waiting for, I wondered? What epiphanies were they hoping would come? Perhaps the enjoyment promised by social media wasn’t quite up to expectations, but everybody wondered if it was just them who didn’t ‘get it’. Ironically, the only people who actually seemed to be really having fun in that group were the two young kids dancing amongst the milling adults…MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 50/1.8 S. SOOC JPEG using my custom profiles, available here.

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Back to basics: subject isolation

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The man: color, texture, contrast, motion. We’re not really missing shallow DOF, are we?

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…

Regular readers will know that I’ve distilled down four common traits of a strong image: quality of light, clarity of subject, balance of composition and ‘the idea’. The first is very simple: does the light present the subject in a flattering way or as you would desire? Is it directional (i.e. are there shadows) so that it’s possible to determine spatial layout of the scene? The last two require some practice, and the final one is really an never-ending quest for every photographer because there is no limit to the complexity of message that can be conveyed. Today, we will look at the easiest yet most commonly overlooked one of the four: subject isolation.

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Photoessay: Over water, from above

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A set like this takes a long, long time to come together – you are at the mercy of both situational opportunity and the weather. On top of that, sometimes you don’t realise you’re seeing things in a particular way until you’ve done it for a very long time and then start to recognise patterns in the images you prefer, and the images you keep taking the next time you’re in the same situation. Whilst most of these were shot from passenger aircraft (also putting you at the mercy of window cleaners and seat allocations at check in), some used drones, helicopters or charters. All of these have one thing in common: none of them were deliberate captures, as in I didn’t make a dedicated trip just to shoot for this project or make this kind of image. They’re the b-roll and the extras we get on the way because something touches us at a subconscious level and we feel compelled to capture it. What I do notice common to the images of this set is a sort of distant dreamy calm; I have to admit this is a very foreign feeling to me, but not unpleasant… MT

Shot with a wide variety of hardware. Mostly processed with Photoshop Workflow III

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