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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Photoessay: Park form

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A walk in the park can sometimes be more than easy and better than creative – a refreshment of the mind and eye, and some good light to make things interesting. I’ve found myself working increasingly in monochrome these days to focus on forms and shapes and remove the distractions of color; there’s a time and place for it but the color really has to carry the story. In a high-density and high-contrast environment that’s monochromatic anyway – taking away the color pushes the eye towards the core of the story. 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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Repost: Derivative works and photography

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Influenced by the architect? Surely. Created by him? About as much as it was created by Apple, because it was shot on an iPhone.

I originally wanted to call this article ‘is anything truly original?’ – however, I think that’s the concluding question I’d like to leave the reader with rather than the opening one. There has been a lot of debate recently – both in the comments here, offline amongst my usual correspondents and in various places on the internet about why a) photography is perhaps not perceived as ‘highly valued’ as other art forms; b) obviously derivative works and the creative value – or lack of – contained therein; and the greater question of whether c) the medium as a legitimate creative art form rather than merely a recording/ documentary one. Perhaps the biggest question is in the title: ‘but is it art?’

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Photoessay: Shadow form

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When three dimensions collapse to two, the only way to infer spatial placement is by the position and overlap of shadows; this includes not just large macro-scale objects but also texture, which is nothing more than superposition of entitles at the micro-scale. No light, no shadows, no image, no spatial relativity. Yet the interesting ability of photography has only two interesting elements when collapsing dimensions: firstly, to reproduce exactly what we see (or think we see) and preserve an otherwise transient moment; secondly, projection that is unnatural or not normally noticed with stereo (i.e. human) vision – be it an exaggerated depth or a completely collapsed one. Expression or collapse in dimensionality is interesting because it almost lets us imagine what the universe might be like if we could perceive more than the standard four dimensions (three spatial, plus time). Either that or it’s the repressed physicist in me geeking out. MT

Images were shot with a mix of hardware over the last year and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Addressing some rather serious feedback

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The quality of readership here has always been very high, and I owe the audience a big thank you for contributing intelligently to the discussion. But there are some occasions where people go above and beyond to bring something truly special to the table. I therefore feel it is only fair to highlight some of these today and give them the stage and attention they truly deserve.

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MT’s scrapbook: Supposedly scientific

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The moniker “National Science Centre” conjures illusions of grandeur and seriousness – unfortunately, the reality is quite sadly different. At best, it’s a bunch of very amateur, run down (and often non-functional) experiments clearly of a mid-90s aspirational country vintage designed to appeal to kids below the age of 10; at worst, it’s something that reflects the state of public education in this country when many attending grown adults find exhibits of this nature fascinating in 2018 – to be honest, the average dentist’s waiting room has more advanced toys. I took my daughter here for want of something to do on a Sunday afternoon, but in the end she found the enormous panel of electrical switches more entertaining. We left confused: not knowing whether to laugh, cry, or come to the conclusion the visitors were probably the most interesting experiments to observe. 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).

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MT’s scrapbook: Angled

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Lots of hard light and pointy geometry today; to the point that many scenes are abstracted into making little spatial sense. The deep shadows constrain physically but open up ambiguity and leave you to come to your own reflections on what exactly has been hidden. Mostly shot around two buildings that come alive at the right time of day with the right light (but the buildings themselves in gross form are a bit simplistically monolithic and not very interesting). We’re a good few months into the SOOC JPEG experiment now, and so far it seems to be sticking…it is forcing me to adopt a rather filmic approach to photography and the subtle but important difference of imagining what can be now, rather than what can be with a little work. Interestingly, I find my compositional balance has improved since I am no longer thinking about fixing things in post with a gradient. It of course makes post processing somewhat easier since there is less local work to be done, but at the same time overall image quality is slightly compromised as I am exposing to output rather than to maximise data collection. Still, the tradeoff in time saved and other opportunities explored seems to be worthwhile so far… 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).

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Photoessay: Monolumpur, part II

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Expand scale, pull out. Frame wider, environmental context. Continuation of testing, continuation of viewing my home city again with (hopefully) fresh eyes. This time, seeing if I’ve gotten the blend right: this set is a mix with the Pen-F, whose SOOC JPEG monochrome toning has been my benchmark for laziness thus far. I think I’ve managed to find something with the Nikon that keeps the overall global contrast profile, but manages to extend a bit more into the highlights for a smoother rolloff and less abrupt clipping. Shadow information is there, but has been crushed a little to fit my stylistic preferences. Even given there’s some selective curation here in light and sequencing – I think you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which… MT

This series was shot with an Olympus Pen F, 12-60/2.8-4 and Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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Photoessay: Monolumpur, part I

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Today’s set is an anonymity-bringing-scale field test around the old part of Kuala Lumpur (Robin’s usual hunting grounds, though I’m sure you’ll see we came back with very different material) of something I’ve been working on for the last couple of months: an attempt at tuning a universal monochrome profile to my preferred style for the Nikon Z7. Whilst the Z7 doesn’t have a direct curve adjustment in-camera, it’s possible to add your own if you use the ‘Nikon Picture Control Utility 2’ software. It takes the place of the contrast and brightness sliders (my guess, ‘contrast’ pushes down the midpoint of the curve, ‘brightness’ brings up the upper quadrant). However, be warned: it seems the mapping is much more aggressive than the input/output controls suggest, resulting in much more contrast than you’d expect, so go easy on the curve. The only explanation I can think of this is that it’s acting higher upstream in the processing chain than we are used to with a curve in post processing. This is a good part of why tuning a profile has taken so long; it also seems that you need to apply some d-lighting (Nikonspeak for fill) to get the right lower midtone luminosity. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results – and light was absolutely spectacular while I was shooting, which doesn’t do any harm either. Is the Pen F retired? If not yet, its days are certainly numbered. Now, on to the greater challenge of color… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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