Photographic resolutions for the new year

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Cheers! D700, 85/1.4G

Firstly, it’s been one hell of a year. I don’t think I’ve ever written and thought so much over such a sustained period of time; in producing content for the site and its readers, I’ve been forced to thoroughly think through all aspects of my photography and workflow. In fact, I’ve written so much that the keys on my primary computer have gone from brand-new-Apple-matte to mirror-polished-in-the-middle in that nine months. (I’m now on my way towards wearing out a new keyboard.) Thank you all for the support and the encouragement.

I’m assuming that those of you who are still here are the kind of photographer who cares about the kind of images they produce more than the equipment – or at least just as much as the equipment. Whilst I write a lot about gear – a good tradesman needs to be familiar with his tools, after all – I never forget that ultimately, it’s all about the images. I would love to find a set of equipment that works for me which I will never have to replace; give me two of those bodies and I’m all set. But, as we also all know, there is no such thing. So gear reviews will continue.

But, if you care about your images, then you surely care about the process of improvement and getting to the outcome you want; this necessarily means that it can also sometimes be a bit painful. We have to force ourselves out of our respective comfort zones in order to progress artistically. Even subjects, styles or locations that on the face of it might not have anything to do with our preferred material might well prove to impart a valuable lesson or two which we can use alter on. I’m all for cross-pollination of ideas; I know for a fact that my wildlife stalking certainly improved my street photography, and attempting to replicate the various lighting styles in paintings have helped both my commercial work and my personal work.

With that, I’d like to share my own personal photographic resolutions for the new year.

1. Shoot less.
Quality, not quantity*. And if you can have both, then tip the balance even further in favor of the quality mark. I’m shooting a lot – more than I’ve ever done – and the upshot is that I don’t always have the time to process all of that. Yet I realize that experimentation is very much part of the creative evolution process; for the two days I had on my own during the last Tokyo workshop, I shot over five thousand frames, 800 of which I kept to review in detail later on a computer, and about 200 which made the final cut. That’s still too many, in my mind: what if I could capture the essence of a place in say, 100, or even 50 truly outstanding images? I have to be even more ruthless with my seeing and editing process; conditioning yourself to throw out the crap is the only way to keep improving.

*This applies to my personal work. Commercial work is a slightly different matter; you simply can’t negotiate down a shot list – nor would you want to – if you’re being paid per-shot or billing an hourly rate.

2. Use what you’ve got.
We’re all guilty of buying something with a flimsy ‘rational’ justification when in reality it’s because we just want it; it’s about gratification rather than necessity. I think that has to stop; we need to recognize real necessity – if a job calls for 300mm, then you have to get a 300mm lens – as opposed to ‘I’ve always wanted a big lens therefore I’m going to get a 300/2.8.’ I’m sure there are pieces of equipment in my stores that are severely underused – the 45/2.8P for example – I should either pare down what I’m not using, or use it. I’m one of those strange people who feels guilty for having something sitting there, underutilized.

3. Try a new format.
If you shoot large, go small. If you shoot small, go larger. And that doesn’t mean going from a compact to medium format digital; you can try MF film for not that much money, and lose very little (if anything) if you procure all of your gear second hand. Different formats have different properties in the way of depth of field and sometimes also tonal rendition (to do with sensor/ film characteristics etc.); consequently, they can also help you to see and compose differently – which adds to the mental list of options for a particular scene. Alternatively, try shooting with a different aspect ratio – perhaps square or 16:9 – which will also help to find frames where you might perhaps have seen a photographic desert, or create something non-cliched in a popular spot.

4. Reverse your lighting.
Shoot with flash where you normally wouldn’t, and vice versa. Yes, the look will be odd and different at first, but it will help to improve one’s familiarity with light – both recognizing it, and creating it. I find that using lights makes me focus more on the composition because it imposes a higher level of discipline over your shot; you’re setting up and taking time which means that all of the elements are within your control. Similarly, shooting with available light forces you to have a higher awareness of the quality of ambient light, and the way it renders on your sensor/ film – it can really help you to previsualize compositions.

5. Travel more.
My wife always says I’m guilty of not taking enough time out to see the world – she’s right. Part of the reason why is that a consulting career completely killed the joy of travel for me; in one particularly memorable year, I’d flown 120 sectors. But travel for work and travel for personal exploration and education are completely different, and it’s taken me a while to realize that – all airports and airplanes look the same in the end. But perhaps instead of spending money on gear, I should spend money on finding new subjects. After all, there’s nothing better than a completely fresh subject to train one’s seeing and observation skills.

6. Share your knowledge.
I of course plan to continue this site in the forseeable future; I’ll certainly have to find more things to write about, but so far that doesn’t seem to have been a problem. One thing I do realize is that I rarely post on-assignment articles anymore; part of the reason is that I don’t have time on site, and part of the reason is that I’m so focused on the job at hand that I simply forget to shoot B-roll. I really need to hire an assistant.

7. Experiment with video.
One of the questions I’m frequently asked has to do with the video capabilities of the various cameras I test; to be honest, I’ve been a bit frightened of video production up to this point – I don’t really see things in sequences, and the whole production part scares me. What I’d really like to find is software that lets me edit video the same way I edit images – bulk color/ tone curve corrections etc – but I’m not sure I want to spend thousands on something I might not even use that often. I am advising on a number of small productions next year, however, so I’ll have an opportunity to have an in-depth chat with the production people – and hopefully shoot some interesting B-roll (or at the very least, stills) for the website.

8. Develop my own film.
I actually learned to do this many years ago at university, in the pre-digital days. My dissertation involved investigating the use of shorter wavelength lasers for increasing measurement precision using holography – we’re talking down to nanometers here – and of course the holograms had to be produced on film; if I remember correctly, it was Ilford PAN-F and some glass plates. (I still have those somewhere, but have no idea where exactly.) The process was slow and laborious – one exposure, three hours of developing time in a completely dark room – no safe light – and then repeat if you got the exposure wrong. Months and months of it. I think I bought my first music player around then. Now that I’m shooting with the F2T again, I want to regain control of that portion of the process – it’s not so much about throughput and efficiency as it is about furthering my understanding. We’ll see. I’ve got to somehow convince the wife that turning the spare bathroom into a darkroom is a good idea.

9. Conquer 35 and/or 50mm.
For some odd reason, I’ve always had a strong aversion to both focal lengths; 35mm more so than 50mm. They both just seem unintuitive to me – I don’t natively ‘see’ in either. I even sold a particularly excellent copy of the superlative Leica 35/1.4 ASPH FLE because I simply couldn’t get used to the focal length. 50mm I make do with on a rangefinder because it’s the longest practical focal length – the 75s and 90s tend to be a bit hit and miss with focusing due to the relative size of the frame and RF patch – but it’s not my favorite. 35 always seemed a bit tight to me, or not quite long enough – compositional no-man’s-land. The funny thing is that I have 40, 45, 50, 58 and 60mm lenses – yet I only use them for commercial work when required, and not for my own personal shooting. I suppose I should do the requisite shoot-for-a-month thing with one of them.

10. Streamline my workflow even more.
You can never be too efficient – the more throughput I can manage, the more work I can take on, or the more time I have to spend on other things – either site-related, or family related. The problem is the workload per image has increased because of file sizes; even if the compute/ conversion time is faster, the retouching time doesn’t speed up simply because I can only physically work so fast. But perhaps if I could improve the throughput for the files that don’t need retouching, I might find some time that way; I might well investigate Lightroom…

That’s it for me – you’re welcome to try any or all of them if you feel they might give you the creative kick you’ve been looking for. If you have any of your own, please feel free to share them with the other readers in the comments below – I’m sure we can all benefit from some ideas! In the meantime, enjoy the festivities and here’s wishing all of you a happy, creative, fulfilling and prosperous year ahead. MT

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Hey,
    I found your site yesterday and I’m so happy I did. I find your writing much clearer and more concise than say Rockwell, or Thom. I started reading your “archive” articles yesterday, three down and so many more to go but I must say I’m so glad I found your site. Extremely refreshing, and informative. Thank you. And have a very Happy New Year! I look forward to many more articles.

    • Thanks Jorge! Ken does a lot of copy and paste in his ‘reviews’ and Thom spends more time criticizing the industry. I care about those things only to the limited extent they affect my images…which is to say not much at all. The primary aim of my site has and always will be the making of images.

  2. I’m a little late to the party, but just wanted to add my thanks for your contribution and your hard work!
    As for resolutions, mine are slightly different. I actually aim to shoot more, or at least go out more to look for the shots, rather than sit inside looking at other peoples pictures or re-reading reviews, looking for the perfect camera. :p I need to experiment more, so I hope to both shoot and delete more. :)
    I’m a strong believer in “use what you have”, but ended up in a rut where I never had my camera with me, and thus never took any pictures. So after much fussing about what to get, I just went out and bought my first compact, and photography is fun again! It’s very liberating to just pick up the camera from my pocket, take a few pictures, put it back and move on.
    Thanks again, and best wishes for the future

    • No problem. I’m a huge fan of compacts, personally – they’re liberating, and if you get the right one, makes serious photography possible without the weight…

  3. Tim Auger says:

    I can only handle one resolution at a time. For 2013 it’s ‘Check the background.’

  4. jeffreysklan says:

    Happy New Year and thank you, Ming.

  5. Happy New Year to you. You have done a great job in your blog. I do learn plenty from your articles and after reading your new year resolution, it helps me to think to improve my skills using my D80 (very outdated) and play more with prime lenses (50/85mm) for this year. I do have the 35mm. Otherwise, it would be a new D600 or try a different system e.g. OM-D with prime lenses. Keep up the good work!

  6. Just recently discovered this blog and your work. It’s all good, very good. It’s really impressing, and inspirational to see so many great photos. I’ll guess I’ll spend quite some time here the comming year. Thanks!

  7. Ming, thanks for doing all this! I’m glad I discovered your site in its relative infancy – it’s hard to believe all this got done over just one year. Maybe after 20 years I can say I’ve been following MT’s blog since the very beginning! ;o)
    I understand your first resolution in a convoluted way – I’m cutting significantly back on one of my main freelance professional gigs, in my case music. Many factors were involved (burnout being the most prominent) but I’m starting to notice that I really want to spend much of this newfound time on photography.
    If you want to cut your frame count, maybe you can take some inspiration from the film days. (I certainly used to pop my frames a lot more sparingly when each and every one cost half a buck!)

    • I do it as much for me – because I like writing – as for everybody else. Dunno if I’ll still have anything to say in 20 years, but I don’t think it’ll end anytime soon. :)

      Film – definitely. I’m shooting more of it, and at the same time less of it, if you get what I mean. One or two more lenses incoming for the ‘Blad, and a decent compact, and I’m all good.

  8. 2012 would not have been the same without you, all the best in 2013

  9. Tony Holt says:

    Hi Ming,
    Happy New Year to you and yours. I’ve enjoyed your blog throughout the last year, thank you for the hard work to keep it going.

  10. Happy new year to you Ming and thanks a lot for sharing your experiences , insights and wonderful images !
    For me (ex-pro) the most intriguing question still centers around “What am I really after ?”. What in hell is it that keeps me shooting , keeps me lugging around gear, investing serious amounts of time and money … what is it that keeps me going on for more than 40 years ?
    Since I have found my answer – a true liberation – the odyssee has ended and everything has radically changed. My focus, my images as well as my gear. If there’s one single recommendation I’d give to fellow shooters it’s this – keep asking yourself again and again “What am I really after ?” and be open for surprises along your journey.
    (BTW, I worked on laser interferometry for my masters degree.)

  11. Ming, sitting here in Singapore airport on my way back to Darwin after a couple of weeks in Japan. From 4 degrees this morning back to the usual 30-35 degrees and steamy later tonight – not really looking forward to it. Like many others I ended up at your site in the process of investigating the OM-D (with 12, 20 and 45mm lenses).
    One subject I would be interested in is how you look after your gear in the tropics – KL is similar to Darwin and I gave up film about 10 years ago after my gear at the time all succumbed to the humidity. In the meantime I have used prosumer cameras by Olympus and Panasonic so that lens changing didn’t come into the equation. I have taken the plunge with the Olympus but for the price I would like to be sure they will last. At Yodabashi or Bic I saw some small camera fridges for the want of a better phrase – like a wine cabinet. What is your approach to camera upkeep and maintenance in these conditions?
    I didn’t get close to your 2 day total of 5000 shots in two weeks in Japan, but it was a holiday with the significant other – would love to go back in the spring or autumn by myself just to shoot all day long. Only travelled with an iPad so will get to have a good look at the results in the next few days.
    Love your work – even if you run out of things to write about I will still be checking out your Flickr page to see what you are doing.

    • I do the camera fridge – it’s actually a dehumidified drybox that keeps RH at about 40% and below to stop mould forming. (I’ve actually got a couple, too much gear etc.) Film stays in the fridge, is brought out to warm up a bit to ambient before shooting with it to avoid streaking from condensation.

      Next trip, I’m probably going to be shooting a lot less. I’m budgeting two rolls of 120 a day, and perhaps a roll of 35. Maybe even less than that. ;)

      Plenty to read in the Archives, too.

  12. Happy new year! Would just like to drop you a thanks for the help you’ve provided me (and countless others) through your writing. You have heavily influenced my gear choices for the better, and I’ve learnt a great deal about some of the technical intricacies of the art that there’s no way I would otherwise have discovered (I’m scientifically challenged).

    On the article, I find your preference for the 24mm and 85mm FOVs very interesting – mostly because I find both invaluable, but I absolutely need the 50mm FOV to provide an intermediate option. In fact, it’s my go to FOV for almost all purposes (with the 50mm f/1.8G on the D600, and the PanaLeica 25mm f/1.4 on the OM-D). But I digress – here’s wishing you a great 2013 ahead, and I look forward to reading more!

  13. vinh truong says:

    I can’t believe I still check out your blog on new year eve when I’m half drunk. You need to write a book and put it on amazon. It will sell like hot cake. I’m not joking. Your blog helps me more than all the books on amazon. You should write a book on photography.

  14. Jorge Balarin says:

    Thanks for the article, happy new year !!

  15. vinh truong says:

    Happy New Year Ming. Nothing better than enjoying your favorite drinks with family and friends celebrating New Year; I’m sure I will do just that tonight :). Hope you have nice rest after a hard year work. Your blog and Work Flow DVD really help me a great deal in learning and enjoying this hobby. Cheer!

  16. Happy New Year Ming. I have been following your site avidly since your D800 review earlier this year. I made the move from Canon crop to Nikon D800 shortly afterwards.

    Great content on your site, very honest. There are times when I see a title or read a passage and think it will upset some people. This is a good thing for people who are open minded though as not sticking to the normal line or just writing things that you know will make people happy means people will end up thinking more.

    I really think you should take a look at Lightroom. I have found it great in terms of speeding up workflow. I’d love to hear what you think of various aspects of the software. So many people “opinions” seem to be quoted from manuals and marketing materials rather than anything incisive.

    Congrats on the great site through 2012… I look forward to continuing to read your thoughts on life, the universe and everything (photographic) in the coming year.

    • Thanks Mark, happy new year to you too. I plan to take a more serious look at LR for some things, but I know it can’t replace PS for any of my commercial work because all require masking and most some degree of compositing these days – something LR simply cannot handle. It’s the inconvenience of having to switch workflows that slows me down and affects quality of output more than anything else. Throughout matters a lot because time is productivity – but not at the expense of the final result.

  17. I have only found your website in the past few months and I now read it a few times a week. It is a truly balanced resource and I appreciate your focus on compositional elements. I have shared your blog link with my 17 year old daughter, who is extraordinarily well traveled, and who I am trying to nurture an interest in photography. I am sure reading your work will help.

    I have purchased several digital cameras over the last few years and in the end they just don’t do the same thing for me as my M6 & 7. I primarily enjoy street and street portrait photos and find myself using a Summicron 35mm 95% of the time. I have a 50,75, and 90 and found the 90 great for street portraits all the way open but that is the exception. We are talking about 20 years of 95% 35mm. I am confident you will find it a versatile focal length or at least explain why not. Thanks again for the thoughtful work.

    • Thanks Jess! I’ve had many dabbling a with the 35mm FOV in the past – never with anything much beyond satisfactory results, though. I’d rather have 28 or 40, even though both are pretty close. Ah well. We shall see…it just seems illogical that I should have such strong feelings against a particular FOV, but be quite indifferent to the others – I can usually work just fine with whatever I’ve got at the time.

  18. Another great article Ming! I always look forward to having new articles from you to read in my inbox. Thank you.

    I totally agree with your philosophy. Photographic equipment should be a means to an end rather than the end itself in my opinion. I.e, the real end should be great photographs on whatever medium one choses, not the gear that one owns.

    Thanks for sharing your resolutions. They are inspiring.

  19. My resolution for the new year will be 20 megapixels. I just bought a new camera :D

  20. Hi Ming, first of all, Happy New Year to you and your family!!! May the days ahead be a great and fulfilling one. Secondly, finding your website is definitely one of my photographic highs in 2012. It’s really great to read from a very talented and articulate photographer. Your depth of technical knowledge combined with your artistic vision and philosophy is a breath of fresh air in world filled with to many product reviews. I was kinda surprised that I didn’t find out about you earlier, and come to think of it, there seems to be so little exposure of Malaysian talents (not just in photography) in the world.

    I used to have a list of resolutions, but most, if not all became just that…resolutions. I realised that I suck at keeping resolutions. Worst still most of my resolutions were too grandiose. I now learn how to take small steps. For 2013, I want to learn deeper about the craft of photography, but most importantly I want to understand more about my weaknesses and my strength as a photographer. In 2012, I managed to fulfilled just 1 of my resolution, that is to print a portfolio. In 2013, I intend to print another portfolio and maybe send it in to be criticized.

    • Happy new year to you too! You didn’t find me earlier probably because I only started the site in 2012 :)

      And as for getting serious about improving and getting constructive feedback – I’m still taking students for the Jan 2013 intake of my email school :)

  21. Markus Grape says:

    Hi Ming!

    Love your site, reading it on a daily basis. I bought the RX100 also after reading your review:) Do you have a lightroom process dvd similar to your photoshop dvd? would love to buy it in that case, I really like the processing of your photos.

    Happy new year!
    Markus

    • Thanks Markus – no LR DVD yet because I still haven’t found a workflow for it that I’m fully happy with. But I’m working on it – maybe in the second half of the year :)

  22. Hi Ming,Discovering your Blog was one of the highs this year. The second was buying the Olympus D E M5, largely based on your writing.Really love this camera.Being from the old film days,I had to get it right first time in the camera. Digital is so forgiving, but you pay the price for poor camera work, with lots of Photoshop work. Try Lightroom, its a great system, and keeps you more honest.Keep up the good work and all the best for the new year.

  23. Kevin Dharmawan says:

    I sort of share your sentiments for the 50mm. I never did like looking through the viewfinder whenever a fifty is attached, and looking at it on the LCD I sometimes find myself saying ‘meh’ a lot. But when I do put them up on a computer screen, I finally get it. But I doubt that I will get over this obstacle to shoot with it more.

    Second of all, I’m not sure if the fifty is a lens that is nice to handle or inspires confidence. Paired up with my gripped body, I find the odd marriage between the dinky lens and the rather bulky body something that i’m very conscious of. I’d like to think that I’ve got large hands and the fifty just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve had my 50 for about three years and I can count my my fingers the many instances I’ve put it on the camera. 2 months ago, I caved in and bought an 85 1.8 and it is the lens most people would find on my camera. Given the somewhat similar focal length of the fifty when paired with a crop camera, and the 85 on a full frame body, I do side with the 85. Call it a small complex or whatever, but the compromise in balance resulting from the teaming up of, what I find, this odd couple just does not work for me.

    • I wonder if our resistance to familar angles of view is because most of the time, the format is too small to appreciate it properly. I agree: things definitely look different on a 27″ monitor against an 11″ one. And it doesn’t help that most 50mm lenses are built to a price – stry the Zeiss 2/50 Makro Planar, or the upcoming 55/1.4 Distagon, and I think you might change your mind. The former is a useful tool in my arsenal for normal location commercial work (food, portraits, general staged scenes) and I think it’ll probably be replaced by the latter next year. 85 on FX vs 50 on DX won’t be close – the 85 will render with more blur and a steeper transition profile at any given aperture, even if you stop down by one to adjust for the difference in sensor size.

  24. David Babsky says:

    7. Experiment with video.
    The new(ish) Final Cut Pro X is a terrific video editor (..simple and intuitive, unlike the old-style cumbersome original FCP..) whose capabilities include “..the Match Color feature to match the looks of two clips shot under different conditions”.
    “..What I’d really like to find is software that lets me edit video the same way I edit images – bulk color/ tone curve corrections etc..” ..you can do that in FCPX.
    “..but I’m not sure I want to spend thousands on something I might not even use that often..” Price: £199.99. Malaysian RM 988.79.
    Thank you for a really interesting website, and I hope you do have a very Happy, Fulfilling and Prosperous New Year!

    • Hmmm…thanks for the heads up. That’s not too bad…let me shoot some video first, and then we’ll see. I’ll get to play around with it for a bit later as I’m directing a video in the new year, and I believe that’s what the production house uses. Happy new year to you too! Haven’t started on the book yet but it’s on the top of my pile now (I’ve got a really huge reading pile. :)

  25. Thanks for all your hard work Ming. Your blog has been an inspiration to get out and shoot more, to see more and to produce better images. Oh and the review of the RX100 made me want one right away. I’m so very happy with it, carrying it everywhere I go now. Wishing you all the best for 2013.

  26. Thanks Ming for your wonderful blog. I too feel fortunate to have come across your work. I look forward to your experiences this coming year and you’ve provided me an incentive and desire to really get going on improving my photography.

    I’ve already violated one of your resolutions by buying new equipment. I just placed an order for a Leica M-E. But all I have is a 35mm Summicron that I’ve been shooting with on my GXR.

    And I may violate a second resolution by shooting more quantity to learn this new camera.

    I hope you don’t mind! ; )

  27. Coming from shooting film and now digital, I have the exact opposite resolution: to shoot more. I’m still being very cautious pressing the shutter, despite knowing that I have an 8gb card in my camera; and to shoot more with my RB67, it’s been sitting there for too long I feel kinda guilty. Last but not least learning to shoot more with a wide angle, my favorite has been 50mm on apsc, all my pictures start feeling claustrophobic haha! Take care Ming, looking forward for interesting articles from you.

  28. Very well put Ming! Best Wishes to you and yours. – Eric

  29. Happy New Year Ming!
    Thank you for the interesting read throughout the year :)

  30. I just wanted to say you are one of the great discovery for me this year and I wish you all the best for the next one ! Happy New Year !

  31. I hope you got some rest and are feeling better. I think you need to take it easy so you don’t burn out. I imagine it must be quite difficult to read all replays and answer as you do. I’m sure “most’ people realize you are human and have a life outside your blog and the people on the other side of the screen. Keep up the great work but keep yourself well. Happy New Year!

    • Improving. The various cocktail of meds definitely helped. ‘Most’ :)

      Happy new year to you too! I’m going to keep trying to take time off, it just seems that my body would rather be ill and conk itself out when I have scheduled it…

Trackbacks

  1. […] does not involve any megapixel numbers. At the end of 2012 – precisely one year ago, in fact, I published a similar post for 2013. It got a surprising amount of attention, so I’d like to both turn it into an annual […]

  2. [...] Firstly, it's been one hell of a year. I don't think I've ever written and thought so much over such a sustained period of time; in producing content for the site and its readers, I've been forced to thoroughly think through all aspects of my photography and workflow. In fact, I've written so much that the keys on my primary computer have gone from brand-new-Apple-matte to mirror-polished-in-the-middle in that nine months. (I'm now on my way towards wearing out a new keyboard.) Thank you all for the support and the encouragement.  [...]

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