Photoessay: Life in the fishbowl

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With the amount of glass (all flawlessly clean, of course) in Tokyo, the number of tourists and the close proximity of everything…I can’t help but wonder if the residents sometimes feel like they’re living in a giant exhibit, periodically interrupted by gawking visitors with cameras from another realm. They take it with remarkably polite stoicism, unlike say, Venetians, who suffer the necessity of paying tourists with the bare minimum of tolerance. I suppose having industry other than tourism helps; that feeling of the ability to say ‘no’ – even you never do. Even if they didn’t – I certainly felt like I was part of the show. If not diving with the sharks, then at least snorkelling in the aquarium. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and 50/1.8 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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Exploring Kampung Datuk Keramat

On rare occasions, I wander off my usual street shooting grounds and explore new locations at random. This time, I went to Kampung Datuk Keramat, an old Malay town which still retains its charm and character. Unlike Kampung Baru, another Malay settlement I have shot before, Kampung Datuk Keramat is not right in the middle of the city but about 5 kilometers away from the CBD. This results in very interesting backdrops as you always have the concrete jungle and skyscrapers in the background. This allows for very interesting framing by juxtaposing the old wooden structures and low rise residential buildings against the towering modern behemoths.

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Photoessay: winter at the Nezu garden

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Trying something a bit different with this set; both because I’ve seen the Nezumuseum garden at its best and because it was just a different time of year to my normal trips to Tokyo. Landscapes in monochrome, especially high frequency ones (grass, leaves, trees etc.) tend to be challenging because they quickly devolve into something very messy looking and ‘hard’, as there’s not much spatial room for midtone transitions; having the benefit of color gives you a little more latitude to play with in this regard. However, I suspect here I was inspired subconsciously by the sort of high contrast and chaotic Japanese street photography genre to try and create something a bit different to the usual color explosions. Winter is a bit of a masochistic time to visit a garden like this, which is best in spring or autumn; it never really snows enough in Tokyo to blanket things into nice soft contours, either. But there is something sober and slightly dark about the scene that I find pleasantly contemplative. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70/4 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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Thoughts on travel photography, 2019 edition

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There are two kinds of travel photographers*: those who travel to photograph, and those who document their travels. I used to be firmly in the former category: you pick a destination and plan your entire itinerary based around photographic objectives; you try to sit/stay/transit via positions that maximise every possible photographic opportunity. You depart at times when light and seasons are likely to be most cooperative. Your equipment is 90% of your total baggage weight, and you’ll recycle your underpants if it means you can bring both the gimbal head and the ball. You pack every bit of gear you own just in case – you can always leave it in the hotel, but you might not be able to get a spare on location. And then you carry everything on the off chance you might miss an opportunity. You fly airlines that are lenient on hand luggage, but must balance that off against who cleans their windows best (or has A330s/A340s with that CrystalVue coating). I’ve done that round first on holiday, then on commissioned jobs, on workshop tours, and finally on misguided attempts to take a break from commercial work. Of late, I find the way I work changing; and that’s meant some big changes in the way I approach the idea of travel photography. Oddly though – my yield isn’t lower. If anything, I’d say quality is higher. Let’s try and figure out why.

*There may well be a third kind, but I’ve yet to find it.

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Shutter therapy in Perth, part II

Continued from Part 1

Perth makes for a marvellous backdrop for monochromatic street photography thanks to constantly clear skies, deep shadows cast by direct sunlight and the urban architecture filled with people going about their day. Due to limited time, I didn’t dedicate any shooting sessions to black and white work but shot everything in color and converted some of the shots in post. However, most of the images shown here were shot with the intention of being presented in black and white.

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Shutter therapy in Perth, part I

Recently, I was in Perth to shoot portraits for an old friend as well as to take some time off and indulge is some shutter therapy. Perth is not new to me – I spent several years completing my Civil Engineering degree at the University of Western Australia and nearly migrated to Australia permanently. I also picked up photography while I was in Perth, and spent a considerable amount of time shooting around the beautiful city. Back then, I was running around with a compact point and shoot Kodak and DSLRs were starting to gain popularity. When the opportunity to revisit Perth presented itself, I was quick to jump at it.

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Photoessay: Life, observer and observed

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Alternative title: observing people observing the world. Actually, I feel about as detached from these images as the subjects feel detached from their surroundings. In a strange way I feel this coldness of mood works quite well for the given subject matter and creative intent; on top of that, color would have inevitably suggested moods or emotions that are neither appropriate nor sufficiently sangfroid. Actually, on second curation – I can’t help but see can alternative interpretation in a lot of situations. Missing is that feeling of intense focus implied by observation; rather there’s just a sort of blank mechanised obliviousness. This is probably not helped by the predominantly low key tonal palette; I’ve always liked that possibility of ambiguity and mystery suggested by it (regular readers will probably notice a distinct lack of high key monochrome here) – eyes you can’t see tend to mask the thoughts of the individual. MT

Shot over a period of time with a Nikon Z7, Olympus Pen F and various lenses; images are SOOC JPEG using my Nikon Z7 picture control pack, or specific Pen F settings.

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On visual economics and scarcity

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No longer special if you see it every day, but stands out precisely because you don’t.

Alternative title: why exceptional photographs will always be rare

Economics 101: value, regardless of how it’s measured (price, time, social media kudos, etc) is proportional to demand. Demand is regulated by intrinsic attractiveness to a given market, the size of that market, and the supply available. Regardless of how few of something there are, if nobody likes or wants it, then it has no value. Similarly, something that may be intrinsically cheap but in short supply with a huge demand might see its price rise out of proportion with the the actual cost, utility or materials of the goods in question. But it’s not just physical goods that obey this rule; intellectual property and even more nebulous intangibles that do not have a limited supply (e.g. there is no theoretical limit to the number of people who can view a photograph) do, too. Even the compositional elements of a photograph. If you’re ready for another one of my strange philosophies, read on.

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Photoessay: Urban form

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Just as the previous photoessay focused on the distilled shapes and forms of the organic, today’s does the same for the inorganic. Hard shadows play off hard lines and angles and deep blacks create a sense of spatial discontinuity that turns the unknown into a solid anchor, intentionally inverting perception. Sorry, sometimes I forget I’m not writing for a society art critique. Most of the time, I just like the shapes. MT

This series was shot with the Nikon Z7 and contains SOOC JPEG images using my custom Picture Controls, available here. Similar results are available with other cameras by following the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Framing, color and simplicity: Robin’s take

After sifting through a huge collection of street images shot within the past year, I found that I was specifically drawn to colour and simplicity. We all look for different subjects and approach street shooting differently. For example, I love MT’s appreciation of interesting and unusual urban geometry as well as creative use of dramatic shadows and light in his framing. In contrast, I take a more simple approach by focusing on a singular subject/content and ignoring everything else. I work with many human subjects – close up street portraits in particular – and keeping the image clean helps take the attention straight to the facial expression of the people. I have come to the realization, very recently, that colour also played a huge role in how I chose and frame my portraits and general street shots.

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