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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Back to basics: Rules of vision – part II

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Upside down, or?

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…

Continued from part I – hopefully the first part has had time to settle and digest; let us press on…

We draw temporal inferences from direction of shadows
The length and direction of shadows also suggests time of day: this is one of the indelible subconscious rules dating back to the very beginning. It is a consequence of observing sunrises and sunsets and being able to judge approaching darkness accordingly, by both overall luminance of a scene and the shadows cast by the sun. Sadly, for a lot of us, this is somewhat academic as there are far too many offices with hours that extend beyond daylight and further have no natural light whatsoever…

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Back to basics: Rules of vision (or, things we can’t help seeing) – part I

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Did you notice the sign above the man’s head? What about the house number? Or what appears to be a Cuban flag in the doorway? Or was the moving man the first ‘anchor’?

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 hate arbitrary maxims labelled as ‘photographic’ rules simply because there is no such thing as a ‘universal scene’ or universal set of parameters for every image. Every composition is different, and every creative intention is different, which means the whole premise of there being a fixed set of laws that make a ‘good’ image or ‘image that works’ can only be nonsense. However, I do think there are some fundamental principles of human vision – and consequently psychological response to elements in an image – that we cannot ignore since they directly influence the response of our audience to the ideas we are trying to present. That is what I wish to address today: what are the autonomous/ subconscious/ reflex/ automatic – pick your preferred term – visual responses that we should be aware of and seek to utilise when we compose an image? Think of this post as the predecessor to The Four Things: it’s the underlying reason why some of the Things have to be the way they are.

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On-assignment photoessay: Monolithic

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There’s something about the visual gravity only the deepest registers the monochrome tonal scale can provide; those zones that make or break a good printer and convey tonal richness and texture. Whilst such work tends to be more the preserve of editorial and fine art photography and less so in commercial, I can’t help myself from seeing such subjects during the course of a cleaner, higher key commercial assignment. There are always structural and physical elements of such massiveness as require these tonal registers to do them justice; I shoot and file them away for later personal satisfaction. Overcast weather may be the bane of most commercial available light work, but it matters not a bit in this case. This particular set is the curation of several assignments; there’s a deliberate change in pace between the images where the monolithic element may be the entire frame, or just a small (but visually heavy) part of it. Or it may be an otherwise light-coloured subject but still somehow that sort of chalky, textured grey… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, D850, 24-120/4 VR, 70-200/4 VR. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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Photoessay: Tokyo life

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Trying something a little different with the curation this time: think of today’s presentation as a sequence of places visited and a journey rather than a similar collection of images. Note the rhythm of transition between indoors/outdoors; bright/dark; intimate and detached. It is a series of interactions between observer (me) and the environment and people around me; I experienced first and shot second, rather than focusing purely on photography. Trying to put my new approach to travel and image-making into practice… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and SOOC with my custom Z7 Picture Control profiles.

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