Sunday, February 12, 2012


After a very, very short time here, I've found the Wordpress platform to be not only more elegant but also easier to manage - apologies for the confusion.

Hereafter all new posts will be made at - please update your bookmarks accordingly.


Because somebody will eventually ask...

..."what gear do you use?" is the most common question I get from aspiring photographers or keen amateurs.

Gear doesn't matter. Practice, on the other hand, does. I've got images in the Getty library that were shot on digital medium format; I've also got images shot with my iPhone. But I admit, like every other photographer, there is an element of gearhead geek in me. So here's the current list:

Primary - Leica M (I'm Leica sponsored); M9-P chrome, 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE, 50/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH, 90/4 Macro-Elmarit-M (on it's way, I'm told). Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon, ZM 2/50 Planar. I've also got a Visoflex III and Bellows II for macro work, and a home-made hotshoe mount PC sync cable that fits under the Visoflex housing to trigger my flashes.

Primary, special purpose - Nikon FX; D700+MBD10, D800E (on it's way), AFS 24/1.4 G, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, AFS 85/1.4 G, AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G. Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 'Hollywood' Distagon. A whole bunch of extension tubes and adaptors. Three SB900s and one SB700.

Compact - M4/3; Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1, ZD 12/2, ZD 45/1.8, ZD 14-42/3.5-5.6 IIR. Panasonic Lumix G 20/1.7. Contemplating the upcoming ZD 75/1.8 and ZD 60/2.8 macro.

Point and shoot - Leica D-Lux 5 (incoming), Ricoh GR Digital III and of course the iPhone 4.

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..."how do I get better?" comes from people serious about learning.

As I said before: practice, practice, practice. Also, look at other people's work; famous work; what don't you like, what do you like? Can you figure out how they did it? Can you figure out why the shot works, or doesn't? Critical analysis of an image often yields insights into composition that will help you instinctively arrange your frame when you look through the finder. And the two most important tips are a) watch the edges of your frame and b) make sure your subject is clear: if you don't know what it is, then it's almost certain nobody else will, either. And that makes for a very weak photograph.

..."how much do you (or should I) charge?" comes from people who want to turn pro.

How much do you think your work is worth? What is your opportunity cost? If you're asking how much I charge, if we were in head to head competition, could you justify what you're asking?

..."what's your workflow like?" comes from professionals.

RAW > ACR > Photoshop - nothing else gives me enough control over individual files, and even batches of files. I don't like libraries; I don't like batch editing; and I don't believe in using JPEG unless you don't have a choice, or your image is baked and done (and it's appropriate for the final intended use).

..."what's your day job?" is what I inevitably get from old hands who've seen the game change from film to digital to social media and wonder how on earth there can be so much content out there - some truly great and probably only made accessible by the digital era; yet so little appreciation for art.

A job is a means to an end: sadly, yes, I do have a day job that provides the backbone of my income. Suffice to say it isn't photography, or even photographically related :)

On assignment: Thaipusam 2012

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Master of the cave. M9P, 35 FLE

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The limestone Batu caves are alive with primal energy through the night as millions of Hindu devotees bring offerings to the temple of Lord Murugan after a 25km trek from the companion temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur.

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The main cave in 2011, but this year looked much the same. I didn't have the right lens for this perspective, for reasons I'll get into later. D700, ZF.2 2/28 Distagon

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The offering dance. M9P, 35 FLE

This person - it's not clear if it's a man or woman - was very much in a trance, holding the bowl of fire and dancing in a haunting way. Her/his eyes were closed almost all of the time, but knowing when to pause to let an assistant or friend pour more oil into the bowl to keep the fire going. Leaves were waved through the fire, ostensibly for purification or offering. Lit mostly by the fire and the dim lights inside the cave, by her/himself she would have been a spectacle. Yet this was just one of dozens, or even possibly hundreds, of similar scenes going on at the same time. One can't help but admire millions' dedication to their faith - and yet at the same time wonder where the divergence lies, because if all religions fundamentally preach the same thing, why do people still lie, cheat, steal and kill? Why is there less and less honor and honesty in this world? I can't answer that. Towards the end of shooting the sequence, one of her/his assistants advised me not to take so many photos; I probably wouldn't sleep well that night. Things visit people, he said. I thanked him and left; I'd finished anyway. Most nights I don't sleep that well, unless I'm absolutely exhausted. Strangely enough, I slept like a deep, satisfying dreamless sleep that night - for a solid eight hours, a lot more than the two or three I normally manage.

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Release. M9P, 35 FLE

What makes people act the way they do? What determines the nature of self? These are the two questions that come to mind after watching a devotee get released from their trance by what is presumably a priest of some sort (bald, at left) though I have also seen the procedure performed by another devotee. The releaser grips the head of the devotee and blows on his forehead; a grimace of pain and he collapses, supported by his friends or family. It can't be physical pain, becuase he carried a heavy portable shrine 20+km on foot from the main temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur, with offerings of lime and milk pots attached to his flesh via hooks; it looks to be spiritual pain as something is separated inside and his own self is restored. Where does the self go? Why is there pain when it returns, not a sense of happiness or at least familiarity? Instead we see devotees slumped exhausted (understandable) and looking confused, lost and vulnerable. We are but a small, unimportant and impotent part of this world. And timing and luck are pretty much our only ways of being in 'control' - for instance, if I wasn't exactly where I was with exactly the right camera settings and focus set, I wouldn't have gotten the shot. Could I have controlled the elements, replicated the emotion of the subject? No.

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Proof that they do bleed. M9P, 35 FLE

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Exhaustion after the event. M9P, 35 FLE

Let's revisit this exercise from a photographic point of view.

I've shot this event three times - in 2008, with a D3; 2011 with a D700; and this year with an M9P. Which was easiest? Without a doubt, the D700. I was using f1.4 or f2 primes with a very capable 8fps low-light body. Which was the hardest? Duh - this year. The M9P is a great photojournalism camera, but very, very challenging to use under these conditions. Subjects were fast moving. Light was uniformly very low, and very erratic; the center weighted meter on the M9P is very careful to protect your highlights, so if you have a few point sources in your frame, you'll find the camera reporting 1/2000 at ISO 160 is sufficient at night. That means you're both metering and focusing manually, all when the world is moving around you at a million miles per hour. Oh, and I only had one lens - the 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE (which is truly outstanding, by the way.)

But which images did I like the best? Again, the nod goes to the M9P set. There is a disconnect in the D700 images, which are more mature than the D3 images - if I can't say I've improved as a photographer in four years, then I'm not trying hard enough. This year's set has a rawness and direct connection that is lacking in the other sets; it's more obvious the further after the event we get. Do I think I could do better next year? I certainly hope so. Would I change equipment? Probably not, actually. MT

The full set is available here on flickr.

Featured on the Official Leica Blog

A shooter's review of the 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE:

Test driving the V-Lux 3:

More to come!


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New beginnings. D700, 28-300VR

Welcome to my new blog. It isn't my first and probably won't be my last. The primary aim of this site is to share thoughts as a professional photographer; that means 99% of them will be photography related - images, stories, technique, experiences, and yes, even some gear reviews. 1% is the right reserved to enjoy the freedom of the internet to share thoughts on off-topic items. Enjoy, please visit regularly, share this page with your friends and feel free to drop me an email. MT