Everybody’s a critic

In the internet age, anybody who has an opinion is free to express it. They’re even free to promote it in whatever way they choose, to whoever they choose. And inevitably it’s the loudest people that get heard – though not necessarily are they the ones with the most valid or interesting things to say.

/rant on: Something has been bothering me, for the past few weeks. And I’ve just put my finger on it. Every time I post a camera or lens review, something odd happens. Traffic spikes, but so do the very polarized emails and comments: everything from outright praise that I find undeserved (though extremely flattering) to derision and people attempting to poke holes in every single portion of my methodology or opinions. I want to make several things clear, both for reviews going forwards and retroactively for things I’ve already written:

1. Everything is relative. If you don’t like my images, fine – nobody is forcing you to look at them. Same for my opinions. But one of the great things about the internet is that there’s so much free content out there that you’re at liberty to choose what you see and read. (What you believe is up to you). And even better, is that there’s always an opportunity to learn something because everybody has a different point of view. I strive to approach every comment and question with an open mind, because it’s entirely possible (in fact, likely) that somebody has thought of something I’ve overlooked. But at the same time, questions are fine, but if you’re going to be a critic, then at least have a clear logical support case for your argument.

2. I will never claim that X image is better than Y image on anything but a subjective, personal level. Remember, cinematographers like flare, but still photographers don’t. Same with certain soft lenses. Photography is subjective, and that subjectivity means that nobody is right or wrong for the most part.

3. For the other parts that are quantifiable – noise, resolution, color accuracy (but not ‘pleasingness’) etc – then scientific tests are always the best way to get a relative idea of whether A is better than B. But the observer must always remember that there are a lot of variables involved – some of which cannot be decoupled from the equation (like lens choice) and some of which are also not relevant to the question (lens choice does not affect noise performance!).

4. I run tests and reviews as practical exercises. The reviews and tests I write are basically a documentation of my own evaluation process to determine if a particular camera makes sense for me or not as a tool, and if so, what incremental advantage does it offer over what I’ve already got. It’s possible to always say ‘but you should have use the 50/1.4 Aspherical Super-Nonagon-Reproductar ED instead of the 50/2.8 XYZ Noname’ – yes, but that isn’t a real world choice for me. I don’t think about the equipment I don’t have, because I’m not going to make photos with it. And I’m certainly not going to go out and buy it solely for the sake of a test. It seems a lot of people get hung up over this and fail to realize that a) a huge amount of work is required to document these tests and b) I’m not paid for it. Worse still, it takes away from the time I have available to do work that does pay. If I compare two things it’s because it’s a real world choice I’ll have to face when looking into the equipment cabinet.

5. My conclusions are not drawn solely from the images you see. The images are there as examples and illustrations. There is no validity to base a conclusion off shrunken web-size jpegs that have both been compressed and color-converted down to 8bit SRGB. I don’t share full size raw files because a) they’re proprietary and b) it would be ridiculously impractical due to bandwidth and hosting considerations. I won’t write something unless I’ve seen it enough times to warrant mention – a single odd image could be down to any number of factors, including sample variation. If something however performs consistently better or worse than expected based on other pieces of equipment of similar specifications, then it’s worth noting. And I suspect that’s what makes a lot of people uncomfortable, because they may have put their money in the wrong camp.

6. Equipment is nothing but a tool. If one tool gives you more flexibility or capability than another, then use it; if it doesn’t, don’t. Grow up and stop wasting your time defending your equipment choices online as though they’re religious beliefs or life and death. If you like it, use it. If that makes you produce better images with camera A even though camera B has more resolution, then camera A is better for you. This is why we have literally hundreds of choices on the market – the camera companies are smart enough to realize that, and let the diehard fans fight to the death over it on the internet. Any publicity is good publicity, right? As a photographer, I only care about the usefulness of a tool. I will buy what works and be vocal about what doesn’t, because if we’re not, then nothing will improve or be fixed. Remember: by far the most important ingredient in a successful photograph is the photographer.

7. The litmus test is the image you get out of it. If the viewer spends most of their time looking for noise rather than at the subject, then I’ve failed as a photographer. Delivering a good image – something that pleases myself and my clients – is the end goal, not to produce an incredibly boring photography that’s technically perfect. That is not what I’m hired for.

8. Finally, my site is about photography, not equipment. If you are looking for community validation of your expensive purchases and expect to see results that show the most expensive is always the best by a clear margin, then criticize my testing methodology with no proof or credibility if I find otherwise, please go and find a suitable forum for that – there are plenty of them out there. But if you want to learn about how understanding the various elements of composition will make you a better photographer, or how human psychology influences our perception of color, then keep reading. /rant off. MT

____________

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Comments

  1. Xenia Edberg Kledzik says:

    At artschool one of my teachers told us a story – I have no idea if it is true – about a chance meeting between Anselm Adams and Ernest Hemingway. The two men talk for a while and then Hemingway asks Adams: ‘Hey, mr. Adams, what kind of equipment do you use to produce such great photos?’ A.A. thinks for a moment before answering: ‘Well, mr. Hemingway, what kind of typewriter do you use to produce such great stories?’
    Your photos and thoughts about photography are highly enjoyable, Ming! Please, do not let ‘trolls’ occupy your mind…
    All the best and thanks!
    Xenia

  2. Thanks and keep up the interesting and excellent work!

  3. Well said Ming. As someone who writes for a living I have to say that growing a thick skin is just part of the job. Valid criticisms are always something to learn from, but there will be critics who flame just because. “Haters gonna hate” and “you can’t please everybody all of the time” are two truths which have helped.

    Points 6-8 are awesome :)

  4. Ming,
    Great text. In your text there are all the reasons why I´ve ended taking part on photography sites. But is always fun when somebody “likes” my photos. I often find your work to be inspiring and of very high standard. Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks Lars! I don’t take part there either, but sometimes it’s interesting watching people duke it out over the most minor trivialities whilst overlooking the fact that neither of them could shoot their way out of a paper bag…

  5. Ming, for what it’s worth, the value in your blog for me is that your content is unequivocally about the photography, not the equipment. And I personally find a lot more value in that than, for example, photographs of rulers, brick walls, and newspapers or of feature comparisons and spec sheets. I’m more interested in the daylight image which says something meaningful about life or the world that plays out before our eyes than I am in the image captured at 160,000 ISO which says nothing about anything except that it can be done.

    Short version: thanks, and keep up the great work.

    • Thanks Narayan. Equipment is a means to producing photography, not photography as an excuse to buy gear. The 160k image can be done, but what we should be taking away from it is that we now have another tool to add to the arsenal, not that it’s noisy…

  6. We’ve all met the type, the ones that come up with every reason under the sun as to why you are wrong on this or wrong on that. Sadly, it isn’t the content that is the catalyst, it is simply their nature. Don’t approve their comments and ignore them, otherwise, it’ll be you that is Tilting at Windmills

  7. Ron Sprunger says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Sven. I’m fully aware that I’m reading YOUR opinion here, and really don’t want to have to deal with argumentative, demeaning comments. Sure, you’re not God, and we all agree/disagree to some extent with things you say. We also learn, if we care to do so. But having found and subscribed to your blog, and appreciating your willingness to share an intelligent approach to photography and equipment evaluation, I don’t want to either lose the source of my pleasure, or have it diluted by mean, derogatory threads of comment.

    Please keep up the good work, and feel free to filter out comments that detract from the friendly forum you’ve built.

    Ron

  8. Michael Sin says:

    Support you always, Ming! And thank you for the thorough review & prompt feedback. I am impressed with your work & passion in Photography!

    Michael Sin!

  9. Hi Ming, I think you have crafted an excellent & valuable blog in a very short space of time. Quite amazing, really.

    My only suggestion would be to moderate all comments and simply delete the ones you perceive as rubbish. Another professional photographer / blogger Kirk Tuck (Visual Science Lab) had a mini-meltdown a while back, when a few of his posts suffered a deluge of negative and dumb comments. He nearly gave up blogging as a result. As a good photographer “selects” or “filters” a scene before taking an image, apply the same strategy to comments.

    • I do moderate comments before they appear from posters whom I’ve not approved previously. So far I’ve approved everything in the interests of transparency and credibility, and because there may be something worthwhile buried even in the negativity. However, requiring moderation doesn’t stop you from reading the negativity – so I suppose it’s more of an internal attitude change that needs to happen to prevent trolls from getting you down.

  10. Phill A says:

    Well said, don’t get discouraged by the trolls; your excellent reviews backed up by (more importantly) excellent images are a real inspiration and much appreciated.

  11. “Grow up and stop wasting your time defending your equipment choices online as though they’re religious beliefs or life and death. If you like it, use it. If that makes you produce better images with camera A even though camera B has more resolution, then camera A is better for you.”

    Love it!

  12. Matthew D says:

    “If one tool gives you more flexibility or capability than another, then use it; if it doesn’t, don’t. Grow up and stop wasting your time defending your equipment choices online as though they’re religious beliefs or life and death.” WORD.

  13. Haha, what terrible typos I’m having, okay I need to sleep in the other side of the world now! Good luck, and I hope to see some more photos soon :)

  14. I have a few things that I want to say to you!
    1) Keep doing what you’ve been doing: Don’t change just because “Everyone’s a critic!”
    2) Your photography is creative, distinctive and refreshing: You’re doing a great job at being you. You’re being paid for what you do professionally. Not everyone understands art, and in that photography, yet they can still type and speak!
    3) The internet is here to stay: At least that’s what I know…. so what do I know? For the better or for the worse… I’m glad you have all your channels open. You allow comments on all your blogs and you open up your workflow and share you love for photography.
    4) You have an excellent presence with your photography and blog: You write well, and you have an amazing skill set and talent. Sure, it’s not to everyone’s taste, didn’t Van Gogh and DaVinci all have critics of their work in their day!
    5) The only love you need is from your family and friends: Need I really say anymore?
    6) You have one of the best work flows I have seen: Both in color and B&W, which includes all your artistic sensitivities and post production work flow. My wife definitely agrees and she’s not an artistic but the toughest critic I know on Earth. While I’m labelled as a “trained, educated artist who make a wonderful living in the Digital Age” with a two year old son and another soon on the way. Life sure has its irritating moments, but treasure and don’t lose sight of real gems in life.

    All the best, Po!

    • Thanks for the support, Po – it seems this post has brought a lot of happy readers out of the woodwork – and for that, I’m truly grateful.

      I have all the channels open because I want to learn from my readers too – the negative comments that have solid reasoning show me where to improve, and I welcome those, too. But at some point, I may not be able to reply every post, comment and email…there are now getting to be hundreds a day, which take hours to reply…

      • You’re doing a great job replying what you spoke out with with feeling and spontaneity! Of course I don’t even need you to reply, but thank you that you did.
        More importantly it’s about your attitude and temperament that’s helps you not lose your mind and show positive feeling. Like all the work you have shown up to now. I (We) just expect you to keep going and be positive who frequent your site and keep quiet most of the time. Perhaps we should be the ones speaking up more often. Most thing positive are in those unseen or unheard!

        • You (all of you?) don’t have to, but yes, if you like something, please say so (at least then I know what I should be writing more of in future) and share it with your friends. Thanks!

  15. I am one of the many people who just love your work, how you write and take photographs. There are much more people like me out there than those who comment and send you the mails you mentioned. What i like to say is, that it is very subjective, 1000 people watch your blog, like it and never write anything and 10 will critizise you in that bad manner.

    When i am posting at flickr sometimes there is rarely a comment or a fave, the most people just looking at them, like i can see in the statistics and that’s what i’m happy about. In the first line i took the photos just for my pleasure and i love the whole process taking them. In your case you also have to please your clients, but what i see is, that it is working.

    If you don’t mind i copied point number 6 “Equipment is nothing but a tool” to my notes. Sometimes i forget that, like many do ;-)

    So keep posting on!

    • Thanks for the support, Daniel. And yes, the supporters far outweigh the haters – it’s just that those with the unfriendly and angry voices are always the loudest, because they belong to personalities that demand to be heard.

      Not all clients are easily pleased, but hey – it’s a learning process.

      I’m guilty of forgetting #6 myself sometimes too. Just sold a bunch of gear I no longer use…it’d been sitting around for far too long.

  16. What a lovely rant. Refreshing. Thanks!

  17. Hmmn – looks like I’M going to be a critic of sorts this time in that, whilst I agree with everything you have said, you can not and will not change any of these things, or be able to prevent them from occurring in future. They are obvious, self-evident, have always existed and will always exist (explaining “methodology” and “intent” is useless – “hater still be gonna hate”). They will not go away and are the necessary “price of admission” for performing any task in a public sphere.

    It’s not that you shouldn’t find this frustrating and be able to vent, but it could be seen as being a little churlish to join the Army and then complain about all the people shooting at you !! Please allow this minor complaint to help mitigate the complaints you are making about the various complainers … better to be doing something you enjoy (“having a voice”) for a large audience (with the concomitant “haters”), than to be doing nothing, with no complaints, but no people who admire you as well. Think of it as an annoying form of flattery. This is important as the “trolling” or dissent, or whatever, won’t cease – whereas your output will if you take it personally rather than accepting it to be the nature of things and entirely beyond your control.

    • Oh absolutely. I welcome well reasoned counterpoints or critiques – that’s the way we all learn – but I don’t think there’s any value in fanboyism or blind brand loyalty.

      Perhaps I am complaining a little, but I’m also stating a point: I do things my way because it makes sense to my end purpose. This may or may not be applicable to the reader, so they’re free to take it as they wish. But personal attacks are just petty and uncivilized.

      Don’t worry, so long as I still have the inspiration, I’ll always continue to produce whatever I want to produce, regardless of the haters :)

  18. michael says:

    “Finally, my site is about photography, not equipment.” And great photography, at that. I come here to see the pictures and appreciate your perspective on technique and equipment. It’s like a super-bonus that you would take the time to share. There are a lot of negative people out there, and people who really like to argue. The internet seems disproportionately filled with them because it’s easier to be a jerk when you’re anonymous. Don’t let ‘em get you down. :-)

    Ze Frank recently had a video about the polarity of comments on his site that you might appreciate: http://ashow.zefrank.com/episodes/28

    Keep up the good work. It’s much appreciated!

  19. Hi MIng,
    I enjoyed your brief talk on BFM 89.9 yesterday. I’ve seen so many photographer blogs online (just because one has an awesome camera, it doesn’t make that person a photographer!) and may I say, yours is really something. it’s amazing! you know, sometimes when you see a photo and there’s a story to tell, your pictures are captivating! And it’s deep and I don’t know, it really has a deep feeling to it. Oh, I’m swooning looking at the lovely pictures. Thanks for sharing your work of art!

    Cheers,
    Adia

    • Aha, thank you! I didn’t know if anybody actually heard it. Wasn’t 100% sure when it was going to go up, so I didn’t post it here. In any case, I’m waiting for the podcast to go up on their site so I can link it for you all to listen to…

      If you’re based in KL, please come for the next reader meetup – I’m thinking of organizing something fairly soon.

  20. Shah Mohd Adnan says:

    Hi Ming, Agree with your points. I don’t believe in any of your blog/review/muse did you say that a particular work/photo/item is better than another “because I said so”. In fact the reason I refresh your website every few hours is because i look forward to your work in which you described your methodology, limitations and purpose. And for the beautiful photos you take and develop. And some uncensored camera porn.

    And you have made it clear time and again that it’s a matter of personal perspective and taste. Without the touch of the individualism of the photographer, no true art can be made. We might just all of us take the same picture of a subject we have all conscientiously agreed upon.

    I hope the words of those who pisses you off doesn’t deter you from your excellent work. Borrowing the words of Tinker’s Realm, Blog On. Best regards.

    • Haha – well, you can refresh every day, I don’t have time to post every few hours LOL. Gotta work to support this site (and put a roof over my family’s head) somehow! Thanks for the support!

  21. I generally agree with the points you have made, with one minor qualification. The scientific testing of something that can be quantified may still not tell you which of A and B is better, a visual test is necessary. E.g. , the common numerical measure of noise ( say, signal to noise ratio) does not tell you that in one photograph, the noise is an acceptable grain, whirl in another, it forms patterns, which look ugly.

    • Oh, I agree on that – but there’s just no single numerical measurement (at least not yet, perhaps it’s a measure of randomness and frequency or something) that can tell you that.

  22. nil carborundum illegitimi

    • A classic quote.

      • Take it to heart, shoot for yourself and no one else, you will never please the nay-sayers no matter what you do so no point in trying.
        At the bottom of your posts it states “Knowledge is for sharing” at the end of the day if you share what you know honestly and openly, add to the collective knowledge of photography, either through question or answer that is what you will be remembered for and what keeps people coming back. Photography is about the journey, and your blog adds to the enjoyment!

        all the best!

  23. I could not agree more & just stated something similiar in another blog where a poster was viciously attacking the blog owner and anyone else that agreed w/ the bloggers perspective. I subscribed to you blog because I appreciate your perspective & definitely have grown as a photographer. Nothing but Praise here-Blog On!

    • Thank you! Both commenters – the polarizing vitriol that comes back from anything I write that’s Leica-related is quite amazing – and clients – have shown me that what makes you different is the fact that you have your own opinion and angle. And there’s no point in wasting time trying to convince dissenters otherwise – I’m happy to agree to disagree, and I’ll gladly capitulate if there are logical, well-supported arguments, but until then, I’ll stick to my guns.

  24. Very well stated. For the life of me I can’t understand why somebody would read a critique or opinion or review and then feel the need to impose their own beliefs on the writer. You might as well write down your own thoughts and then read it over and over and over and over again.

    • Haha, that’s so true. But there are many, many insecure people who use the internet for validation of their own purchase insecurity – that’s fine, but there’s no need to make yourself look ignorant at the same time…

  25. Spot on rant! Keep up the good work.

  26. Well said Ming :)

    • I initially wrote this immediately after an extremely frustrating experience. I then edited (well, pretty much rewrote) it with a clearer head, and found that a lot of the things that irritated me at the time…still did much later. And I think if I didn’t make a stand for what I believe make sense – perhaps not strictly 100% perfectly correct, but to sensible limits – then I’d be being dishonest to myself and doing the rest of the readers a disservice.

      Thank you for the support, everybody!

      • It’s never good to write a response in anger, even worse to post it online for all to see. Good that you took a step back, cooled off, and created a post worth reading. At the end of the day, there will always be a critic willing to push their opinion on anyone who will listen and many who would rather not. It is the same armchair quarterbacks who like to say that athlete A should have done it this way or that. Well, there is a good chance the athlete is a pro because he is better than you, Mr. Critic. So just keep doing what you are doing and forget about the crap that gets thrown your way.

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