Repost: Defining style, and finding your own

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I think of this image as being very characteristic of the way I shoot these days – and you can probably guess that it was one of mine, even without the frame. But what does that mean? Why and what is it that makes it so – and more importantly, how do you consciously add your own visual signature to an image?

Introduction: This was an earlier essay written on a tough topic: something that is fundamentally important for all serious photographers, yet is extremely difficult to define in a strict technical sense due to its very nature.

In hindsight, I realized that it might not be something that a lot of photographers consciously consider at the time of capture; it might come up come post processing time, but you really need to have it in mind before you even hit the shutter. There is of course far more detail than I can possibly cover in a single post – we tried to put everything into a single 2h video, but we landed up needing 6 hours in total to be comprehensive. I probably should have reposted this as an introduction to the latest two videos, but better late than never! Think of it as context, preface and explanation for Making Outstanding Images series: Exploring and Processing for Style.

What is style? Dictionary.com gives a lot of options – 16 to be exact – but I think perhaps the most appropriate definition of style from a photography perspective is best described as:

A particular, distinctive characteristic mode or form of execution, construction, appearance of a visual work which can be associate with a particular person or group of people.

Let’s think about this for a moment. It probably isn’t an exhaustive definition, however, it captures the essence: style is distinctive. It’s individual, or belonging to a group of individuals, associated with them because they created it or they promote and propagate its use. What are the distinctive visual elements or combinations of visual elements that define a style, specific to photography?

In no particular order, because it’s easy for one to dominate over the others:

1. Color (or lack of it)
2. Tonality
3. Perspective
4. Lighting
5. Focal point/ depth of field
6. Fidelity
7. Quirks, the personality of the photographer, or perhaps the X factor

Let’s examine each one individually.

Color
This one is fairly simple: is there color or not? Is it black and white? Is the color saturated, bright and punchy (think happy commercial product shot) or is it monochrome and gritty (think classical photojournalism and war photography)? Consistent use of color is one of the fundamental things that defines a style – but it isn’t exhaustive on its own. Similarly, consistent use of filters or digital gradients to apply a consistent hue shift to a set of images can also define a style; for example, I personally associate that warm, golden light with California; I have no idea why, perhaps it’s the pollution of LA or a fetish of the Hollywood directors.

Tonality
This splits out into a few options: neutral, high key, low key, low contrast and high contrast. The former three options can be combined with the latter two options; you can have something that’s neutrally biased but high contrast, or neutrally biased but low contrast. In digital terms, think of the former as where the majority of the histogram is bunched: neutral would be evenly spread, high key would be towards the highlight end, and low key towards the shadows. Contrast then becomes the bunching: if you’ve got strong gradients in the histogram at any particular point, that’s high contrast. Low contrast images don’t show this. A good example of distinctive tonality would be the works of Sebastiao Salgado: you always know it’s a Salgado because of the tonality of the image, before you even see the subject. It’s a distinctive signature that’s there in his corporate work covering the Channel Tunnel and his humanitarian work in Africa.

Perspective
This one is a highly technical characteristic, and linked to the focal length of the lens used – only. Yes, if you cropped down a wide image to match the same FOV as a telephoto shot from the same position it would be the same, however you’re never going to do that in practice – if you keep the subject magnification the same, then the focal length changes the perceived foreground-background relationship quite dramatically. If a set is shot predominantly with a wide angle lens – modern photojournalism tends to do this a lot, with the subject placed center or near-center foreground and the environment in the background around it to give context – then that’s gives a distinct exaggerated perspective. Similarly, sport and wildlife almost always employ compressed (telephoto) perspectives due to inability to get close to the subject.

Ligthing
Lighting is linked to tonality and contrast: direct lighting produces harsh shadows and flat images for subjects in the frame that are perpendicular to the camera; diffuse lighting produces nice textures and gentle gradients. If you’re not shooting with studio lights, you might not always be able to control this; but you do have control over when and where you shoot, which of course affects the quality of the lighting. Some photographers are nocturnal, for instance. Others choose to always use direct flash in daylight – Bruce Gilden, for example.

Focal point/ depth of field
How much of the image is in focus? Granted, sometimes this is linked to the perspective because of optical limitations, but there are ways around that – fast ultrawides for DSLRs give a telephoto-like separation of subject from background, but with exaggerated perspective; similarly, small sensor super zoom cameras will let you achieve compression but also short hyperfocal distances.

Fidelity
This is a tricky one to define: how close is the image to reality? Is it a feasible scene, which you could happen upon with your naked eyes, or is it something that’s been so heavily photoshopped that you can’t tell between what was shot with a camera or created with a Wacom tablet? I’d put HDR imaging somewhere on this spectrum, too. It isn’t reality, but HDR can be used properly to actually create more natural looking results (to be the subject of a future article).

Quirks
We end with the broadest possibility of all: anything open to the creativity of the photographer. Some photographers leave a little in-joke in frame; others have a particularly distinctive way of retouching; others may only shoot one particular subject. I deliberately haven’t put subject in as a component of style, because it’s possible to shoot the same subject in many different styles – and this wouldn’t be consistent.

Now that we have some idea of how to define style, how do you define your own? Firstly, it must be consistent: you need to be shooting and finishing images in this style consistently, without having to think about it. There may be more than one style you do routinely; I have three which I’m aware of. Using my work as an example, I do three things:

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Classical Photojournalist.

1. Classical photojournalist. High contrast black and white, with almost everything in focus, finessed tonal transitions in the subject – I expose and process for the the subject and let everything else fall wherever on the tonal scale it may – and mostly wide angle, mostly 28mm but with some ventures as wide as 24mm or as long as 50mm, but no longer. I’d describe it as as mix of Salgado and HC-B.

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Cinematic.

2. Cinematic. This is perhaps the style that defines me the most: shallow depth of field, mostly long perspectives (85mm) with some wide, dramatic shots; strongly dynamic lighting, with heavy manipulation of color and tonality to affect atmosphere. (Color will be the subject of several future article). Heavy focus on the subject and just enough background to give context, but no more.

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Commercial.

3. Commercial. Although there are elements of the previous two styles in here, I prefer to think of this as the clean, perfectly-lit product shot: it’s what I do with the majority of my watch photography.

At this point, I should take a step back: how do you even find your style, before you define it? Simple: look at what’s out there, and experiment. For the first few years – hell, it might be a lot of years – you will probably be following other people’s work. You might not even be able to consistently reproduce a style that isn’t your own. Don’t worry – that’s not the point. Your own style should evolve naturally after sufficient experimentation. I know that I didn’t really have a distinct style until 2009 – though I dabbled in many up to that point – which was the classical photojournalist. Cinematic developed at the end of 2010. Commercial has been continuously in refinement as I improve my lighting skills. Other than proving I’m nothing if not a schizophrenic photographer, it shows that even if you can define your style, you may not necessarily have found the one that works best for you: I can shoot in any one of these three, and often have trouble deciding which one would look best.

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Natural.

And you know what? I’d be very disappointed if I stopped developing here. I think there’s a midpoint between all of these three styles – something I’ll tentatively call ‘natural’ – which seems to be the direction in which my work has been going in for some time now; applicable to both available light and studio. The characteristics of this style are perfect color, with a little cinematic hue shift where required; a mix between dynamic and natural lighting, with an emphasis on the subject; and an overall natural perspective to the images – as though you could have seen them with your own eyes, without much artificial intervention (think monochrome, or long exposure, etc.). There’s also extended depth of field (but very slight isolation where necessary). It’s a look that can apply equally to commercial work and my own personal work, allowing development across all fronts.

I’m going to leave you all with a little bonus, because the whole process is difficult to explain in text: An extract for one image from Making Outstanding Images Ep. 4/5; in the actual videos we go into even more detail for four styles and about 30 example images in total. The complete videos, which explore what defines style, how to shoot with a particular output style in mind, and finally, how to complete the workflow with the right processing – in short, putting your own visual signature onto an image: are available here from the teaching store. Enjoy! MT

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Comments

  1. leonarce says:

    Hi Ming, I bought 2 of your products before (E1 &E2), anyway…I’m interested in your processing workflow, but given the current budget I’m not allowed to purchased A: Introduction to Photoshop, E4 & E5 altogether. If there’s highest priority, which one should I get first, E4&E5 bundled or the intro to photoshop first? My main goal is to achieve the kind of look that you’ve put in this blog, very consistent indeed. Thank you.

  2. I was talking to a friend of mine at Whole Foods – just seven years older than me and memories of the camps in WWII – so strange. Our meditation teacher never used a light meter and was always accurate. My friend who once owned a Zorki and has shot for years and years can’t do this. You need to use the same film over and over, I suppose. (Although Ming can, which I regard as a wonder.) To construct a style you have to know what you can’t do. “It is through constraints that mastery shines forth” said Goethe. “Style is the answer to everything” said Bukowski. It’s like vocal fach. Finding it is hard, it’s a stripping away. Very few photographers succeed with different styles, although Erwitt is certainly one. Callahan is another I think. I have no style, but if I ever do, and it’s certainly late in the day, I suspect it would come from the way the subjects I gravitate to speak to me and how I could instantiate this utterance in the photo. Warmest regards to this wonderful community.

  3. I find this definition of style to be very technical. What about the kind of motives you photograph, the focus you put on things, the personality that goes with all of this? What is the main difference between, say, HCB and Elliott Erwitt if not Erwitt’s humor that can be seen in a lot of his images? For example, take that photo from Erwitt that shows a dog owner who looks like he has a dog face because his small dog sits on his lap (from around 2004 I think). Or any of his other, unique dog portraits. Wouldn’t you call that part of one’s style as well? I’d actually argue that *what* you photograph says more about you (and your style) than *how* you photograph it, wouldn’t you agree?

  4. Thanks for posting that trailer, especially edited like that — I had commented to Ming earlier that I wish episodes 4 and 5 had been interleaved so we could have seen the image from capture through post-processing, but I guess enough people want episode 5 by itself that it made more sense to split it up like the way they are.

    Anyway, I have two comments, and both are related. One, it’s amazing to me how few of the PS/ACR tools Ming uses to get his pictures — dodge/burn/sponge, curves, HSL, gradient, and distort are the only ones I can think of. Maybe some cloning and healing some times. And most of the time, these tools are used very sparingly — watching the cinematic sequence, I now have some idea of what Ming calls a lot of dodging and burning, and it’s not nearly as much as some of the crazy PS tutorials you might find on YouTube, but produces much nicer results than those YT videos. Most of the pictures look like they take less than a minute of time in PS.

    It really is very simple, and so much so that I’ve finally decided to abandon my LR-only workflow, and use PS for everything. For those of you waiting for Ming to do an LR video, forget it. Get on the PS wagon already — it’s much simpler than you think, and surprisingly liberating in how you will shoot after you do it. LR will never get you to what PS can do easily. PS isn’t perfect, especially if you’re used to LR preserving all of your edits in the library, but LR is a dead end.

    LR is still my image library, RAW developer and output stage for both JPEGs and print, mostly because of historical inertia, and I have an older version of PS. For image processing, LR is just ACR with the controls organized differently. However, what isn’t simple is having the vision (and taste) in the first place so that you can basically apply a few things in post, and get a great picture.

    And this brings me to the second point, which is capturing the image in the first place knowing what you’ll do to it in post. This is not only important in terms of consistently getting a good image, but also speaks to how equipment ultimately isn’t very important. For example, we (and I include myself) go on about how this or that camera gives us great B&W tonality. Sure there are differences, but buying a camera in and of itself will not improve the tonality of your B&W pictures, nor will using some particular software or even film. What will get you consistently good tonality is capturing the right light while knowing how you will be treating the picture in post. Garbage in, garbage out.

    • I keep saying PS is easy. It really does take under a minute if I’m not explaining every step of it…and because you only use a very basic set of tools, older versions of PS work just fine, too.

  5. Only dissent is as Tom mentions and that focal length should be selected based on field of view from the chosen camera location, as an output of perspective than input, but that’s a minor point really that I probably really learned here anyway.
    It’s only because of your wonderful articulation of such topics that I’m beginning to really “see” photos and consciously be able to analyze before/after a shot and determine why something is/isn’t working. Thanks

    • Tom is technically correct but in practice you’d want to hold subject magnification constant anyway otherwise the image would look very odd – and you wouldn’t be able to see your subject at all if you started off framed for a long lens and switched to a very wide one; that’s a compositional limitation.

  6. I have really enjoyed the Making Outstanding Images Video Series. Episodes 4 and 5 on style have caused me to naturally identify a style before I shoot. I find the videos extremely helpful. They contain information that goes beyond style. From proper exposure at time of capture to numerous examples of processing. Highly recommended. I have really enjoyed shooting with my new found information. Many Thanks! – Eric

  7. Rene François Desamore says:

    Is there any photoshop use in your always perfect pictures

    • Photoshop can only enhance presentation of what’s already there, not fix fundamental deficiencies in light or composition. It’s like developing film. I therefore ‘develop’ every image.

      • Ming, your list of styles is limited. Have you seen Rarindra Prakarsha’s pictures of people and landscape of Indonesia? Rarindra gets absolutely stunning pictures, dreamy scape, even in the harsh tropical lights of Indonesia! He uses PS for significant and non-trivial enhancements. There is an effect named after him.

        • It was meant to be a set of examples, not an exhaustive list. Every photographer has an individual style. Why don’t I just post a list of names of every single person with a camera?

  8. Tom Liles says:

    Perspective…This one is a highly technical characteristic, and linked to the focal length of the lens used – only.

    I’m sure I remember a massive discussion on this BTL in an earlier article. It was way back now.

    In practice, in practice, I think this way of putting it re: perspective is correct. But in theory, I’m quite sure the focal length of the lens is not what matters; the subject-camera distance and magnification are all that matters (the focal length being a convenient, but not ultimate, shorthand for that, for magnification). Ditto for depth of field—when we consider the previous two quantities, and keep them the same, we should find f8 is f8 is f8, i.e., the DOF does not change.
    And so with focal lengths: we say teles look compressed, but if we took a section of a shot from a wide angle lens, cropped it so the magnification would be the same as the tele and assuming we’ve kept the subject-camera distance the same and aperture the same—we would find that they appear identical.

    In practice making that crop would be ludicrous. Though with 36Mpx available on a D800, who knows…
    Easier to just put the right lens on and forget about it, though. This is where I’d like to improve—fluency in different focal lengths. 50 and 35 are the only lengths that feel photographically meaningful to me. The rest often feels like some sort of crutch or gimmick. I’ll probably change my mind as soon as I’m better with my 28 and 85s :)

    • For a given magnification. I still believe that this is the right way to approach it practically because you’re never going to crop down to that level in reality anyway.

    • Tom, re. focal length fluency, one of the assignments in the email school is a perspective exercise where you have to turn in pictures shot with different focal lengths, and what helped me with figuring out different focal lengths, and perhaps may help you too, is to think of a scene in terms of foreground, midground, and background. Ming’s written about this elsewhere, but different perspectives will change the relationship of the fore-, mid-, and backgrounds to each other.

      I ended up approaching each scene in two different ways:

      1. Look for a scene that fit the lens. If I had a wide angle lens, I’d look for an interesting foreground. You could place the subject there if you’re not shy about approaching people. It’s also a great place to put shadows if you’re shooting into the light. For teles, I’d look for things where the background might be interesting against what’s in front of it. Sometimes it’s interesting to juxtapose two things that don’t look like each other or to play with apparent sizes since a far perspective will compress and reduce size differences.

      2. Slightly different: see a scene, and try to figure out which lens is right for it. Is the background context important? Maybe use a tele (after placing yourself at the right distance) to really emphasize the background through size, or maybe a wide if the background is closer to the foreground. Wides are great for placing nearby subjects in a larger context too, as in the classic PJ style. Here’s one from our slightly local paper that I really liked: http://framework.latimes.com/2014/03/10/pictures-in-the-news-869/#/0

      You can sometimes play against type, and use a tele in a wide-angle style or vice versa. I haven’t found a way to make this work for the more extreme focal lengths, but a 50 or slightly wider normal can often play with different perspective styles well.

      Anyway, some thoughts to help you with the fluency of different focal lengths. I’m obviously no master of any of them, but it’s been helpful for me to think about it in those terms in addition to the usual magnification factor.

      • The third approach – and in my mind, the correct one – is to first decide on the ‘story’ or relationship between foreground and background, and only then use that to select a focal length/ perspective. The challenge of course is knowing a) what FLs/perspectives produce what results, and then b) knowing what you can get away with in the physical space you have the work with.

        • Yes, definitely. These are just tools and techniques in service to an idea. I’ve found myself spotting good-looking light or interesting structure or something, and either not taking the photo because I couldn’t figure out a story, or if I did take the picture, discarding it later because it was too boring. I still like a good abstract picture, but it’s tough with humans in the frame, for me. Sometimes it’s better to put the camera down and just enjoy the scene.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Thanks Andre! I guess I was slowly moving toward those conclusions and am at the stage where you think you know the theory but have trouble putting it into practice, i.e., you don’t really know the theory yet :)

        My weak point is tele. The 85G is the least reached for in my arsenal and I’m making a great effort to change that. I recall Ming once mentioning that this short tele field of view can be quite similar to the way our eyes see when we catch a detail and focus on it (I’m finding that a helpful hint at the moment); the more classic 35 and 50 being closer to how we take a scene in in one bite (though our eyes don’t really work that way, of course). Where it gets difficult for me is that I’m often trying to photograph things how they appeared to me, but this is a fool’s errand in some ways since it seems to me that my eyes are able to concurrently see in both the both the tele and wide at the same time. An interesting detail in a scene seems very apparent to me at a glance (one bite view); I photograph it with a 50, say, and once the photo is open on the PC the detail is quite hard to pick out—certainly not as apparent and prominent in the field of view as it was real-time when I was at the scene, looking at it, camera in hand. Not surprising, since a camera doesn’t have two eyes and processing as powerful as a human brain behind it.
        So at the moment I’ve moved to a “strip down” approach where if I see that interesting detail: that’s what the photo is about and I must choose the focal length best suited to display this detail: often a short tele. And forget about things outlying. This then omits the rest of the scene and I’m at the stage of thinking, “well, that’s just the way photography works.” There are tricks with lighting and color, scene permitting, to make a detail stand out, and in that case the 35 or 50 can do the job—but still, the physical size of the detail is small (its % of scene/screen space is small) and not how my eye picked it up at capture.
        I only shoot primes; when I go out I go out with only one lens on; so if I see a detail I like and the focal length I happen to be strapping that day doesn’t match, I try to move on—so I’m almost with you. Though nine times out of ten, I have a go anyway: it’s all practice, the difference being I’m aware now that trying to make a 50 bring out that distant detail which is quite apparent to my eye is not going to work, and I look for ways to try and enhance. Usually there are none. But still, I have a go. Unless I’m on the film camera; then definitely, yes, smile and move on.

        I used to have a similar problem with 28 — and still struggle with it, but not as much as 85 — where it felt like you could never be close enough. Then you start getting close enough, and enjoy it for a while, but the extreme disparity between fore and background starts to feel quite comic and draws attention to itself loudly. I was getting photographs that screamed “28mm!” rather than communicate from the contents of the frame alone. I’m finding cropping 28mm, just lightly, gives some quite interesting results. As discussed above, cropping will change the effective magnification (can make a 28 look like a 35 etc), but what’s different is the camera-subject distance: with the 28 I can be focussing at close distances the 50 or 35 couldn’t have, and this is what gives the interesting effect. I haven’t done anything of value with this yet.

        I’m actually in a bit of a slump just recently, and just like you Andre, I think this is a growing pain. I’m beginning to question my insistence on reality and “as seen” and feel myself pining for more abstract and out there expression—-I’ve had enough of rules, as it were. But honestly, I think that is more about post than capture.
        The photo you linked to was a goodun — and the LA times is still printing papers eh! — and I like the way it’s obviously a photograph of real-life but the lighting scenario injects a healthy dose of mystery. I doubt this was much to do with post and just a well executed capture; but it’s the kind of thing I’m thinking of—the capture is as real as possible, but the output, the processed finished image definitely moves away, into something else. Here’s a link of my own –> scroll down to the image above the essay “The Color of Light,” on this page. It’s just a man through a window—but the result is lovely. I’d love to do something like that, but someone is obviously doing it already: so I, like all of us here, am hoping some images will fall out of my camera and define my way of doing it, my style. I’m convinced the only way that will happen is by taking and processing as many photos as is humanly possible.

        Though, let’s be frank, I’m rarely conscious of this kind of thing: a style. I tend to be more preoccupied with just trying to work my equipment properly—like my 85mm lens!

        • Damn you Tom! Now I have to add Arthur Meyerson’s The Color of Light to my list of photo books to buy. That first picture of the man with the red hat is incredible, and the photo is pretty simple once you break it down, but what a vision. Thanks for the pointer!

          Ming’s abstracts and city building shots made me want to learn how to see like the camera sees instead of how my eye sees. From a purely geometric POV, it’s a projection of a 3D scene onto a 2D medium, and all that implies. Once I realized that, a lot of photographic opportunities opened up, and it was interesting to try to previsualize certain scenes and how they’d work. This all sounds kind of obvious but making a conscious conceptual leap like this wasn’t that easy for me. This also helped me think about how the various layers (fore-, mid-, backgrounds) related to each other in a particular shot.

          Here’s another idea for the 85: go with an even longer FL so that the perspective you have to use is more extreme. That may help you get the long perspective, and going back down to an 85 may be easier. I think I learned about the long perspective best through the Olympus 75/1.8. And it’s actually kind of interesting using that lens these days, because my approach to that lens is how it compresses the layers instead of its magnification.

          Before, like most people, I thought it was too long to be of everyday practical use, especially for street photography, but it’s actually kind of fun now looking for scenes where this lens will do its thing. Currently, it’s trying to find cinematic scenes, especially with out-of-focus foreground objects compressed as framing devices, which isn’t something I’ve really put into my shots before.

          I also think about the pre-Renaissance painters who didn’t know perspective particularly well, so everything looks like it’s squashed or has odd size relationships, and I try to replicate some of those elements in my photos (the cut-off runners with the white car in the foreground at my “power” spot is an example of that).

          • Tom Liles says:

            Hi Andre! Oh good, glad you liked Meyerson :)

            For me it was MT’s wedding shoot (I’ll never forget this story because it was shot with a D700 at an insane ISO; and that’s before we mention it was in a cave in Nepal!) but those photographs illustrated one of the techniques Ming was kind enough to write about, and you touch on here I think, the idea of putting a blurred figure in the foreground, with details in the background, and effectively sandwiching your in-focus (hopefully!) subject between the two. I guess that’s a classic tele technique. Or a technique that is complimented best by the tele field of view… I’ve managed a few photographs like that—but nothing of note.

            I did have a brief go with a 105mm, and I know it’s so close to 85mm it shouldn’t really matter, but it really mattered and things felt downright wrong from day one. Not the lens; me. Just didn’t click. I think I’m a “work upward” linear guy rather than a hi-lo-hi-lo-answer binary search type. I’m to finding focal lengths as PDAF is to autofocus; your suggestion sounds like CDAF. Ha! :)
            [That has to be the most labored and random analogy ever!]
            So I’m hesitant to go any higher than 85 right now…

            I’m still like most people in that I find tele impractical for walk-around use (walk-around as I’ve done up until now): generally it’s a physical limitation—the distances I’m trying to take subjects at, the lens won’t focus that close, and if it would the frame would be jam-packed full of someone’s face. So I’m working on finding my distance; which I’m good at with 35 and 50, I rarely have to shuffle about back and forth now, I instinctively have an idea where I want to be for what. And along with finding my distance, I’m working on framing: I’m convinced cropping edges of a subject adds to a tele shot rather than take away; this ties back in to my monomania idea, but I guess with a tele on the camera, it really is one thing you’re shooting at, or expressing, so why let anything detract? So I want to practice being the right distance away, but not too far away that surplus scenery creeps in to the frame. Still feeling my way into it.
            But, all in all, I find, 9 times out of 10, I fall into the time honored application of this length, and use it for portraits mostly. Upper body, or closer in and from the breast on up.Those shots always seem to work well with my 85mm. Simple. Orthodox. Not really what I dream about—but serviceable photography and good to have in the locker. God, I just wrote “in the locker,” this is how off-balance tele makes me, Andre!

            What I haven’t mentioned thus far, but is perhaps of more immediate trouble, is walking around with a tele length on the camera around my neck, and my iPhone or more recently Clpx-A in my pocket. And using both. Switching from 85 to 28 or so is too violent a gestalt shift to me and I end up eating sh*t with both cameras: very low returns when I attempt to shoot the two, walking about.
            This on its own is another area where MT demonstrates the gap between a professional and serious learners like us. I really think that is a skill not unlike Peter being able to have a conversation over the radio, fly a plane, and think about lenses to buy at his destination. Shouldn’t be taken for granted. I doubt I’ll ever be able to do it… As I say, monomania may be more my style :)

            • I heard a mechanical engineer describe stuff like CDAF as bang-bang control theory. Basically, you’re trying to walk a straight line, and you’re weaving left and right banging into the walls to keep yourself going straight. Not quite as marketable a name as CDAF, though. :)

              I remember you didn’t like the 105. How about a 135? I hear Zeiss makes a nice one … I was walking around with the GR and the 75/1.8 last weekend with nothing in between. Because they were so different, switching between them wasn’t too hard, and not at all like when I have the F3 & 50/1.4 and the GR.

            • Peter Boender says:

              Tom, there’s nothing wrong with monomania. At least you explore the entire gamut of what’s possible with a single setup or focal length :-) . But you can have a dual mono setup too (if that makes sense). And I think you’re already doing that. Go out with a 35mm (equivalent) one day (or one week), shoot the 85mm (equivalent) the next. You don’t have to decide on the spot, or juggle choices as you go. You stick to one thing during your shooting; only your next shooting session will be different.

              When I switched to m43 for travel photography, I first bought a couple of primes. No zooms. This may seem as a step backward, but I actually found it refreshing. Having only a 17mm or a 45mm on the OM-D made me really aware of that specific focal length, and what it was doing for my photography. I learned to see, and more importantly: previsualize, better because of it. You get more out of your tools if you are forced to use them in a more restrictive way. You know I got a zoom now for the OM-Ds, the excellent 12-40mm f/2.8, but it’s more out of convenience than creative or artistic merit. I may have had more fun (photographically speaking) with my D800E and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 in Hong Kong and Tokyo, than the last time with the E-M1 and 12-40mm in Tokyo. Next time I’ll take the 17mm (or 12mm) and the 45mm again :-)

              On the subject of craft, professionals and serious learners: I think professionals are “just” serious learners that earn money with their mastered craft. Of course they need to have a certain level of mastery and consistency in order to be hired at all, but it all starts with serious learning. I used to think that it was all artistry, that you could only make good photos if you had some special gift, like a third eye. With my recent more serious approach, I find that’s not entirely true. There is a lot of “craft” that can be learned by studying, (endless :-) ) practicing, reviewing, culling and receiving critique. We each can go a long way between the average family vacation shot and pictures worth showing to a wider audience and being personally proud of (and maybe even earn some money with). Just like with piloting, a lot of things can be learned (which is not to say anybody can be a professional commercial or military pilot; some people are more naturally predispositioned; admittance tests are there for a reason). But just like with pilots, some people are more gifted photographers than others. They transcend that “professional” label. To me, it becomes really interesting when photographers become artists (instead of professionals). In the end it’s more about “art” than “craft”. And “art” is (apart from the fact that it is very difficult to define) an immensely high, and for many even unattainable, goal.

  9. Peter Boender says:

    Very nice video teaser MT! Makes me want to see more of the advanced stuff. But Email School first :-)

  10. Reblogged this on Walkingtomydreams13.

  11. Very cool, Ming. Love the addition of the video clip. This is what I want to begin to define and sort out in Cuba. Enough practice, let’s start moving towards a style!

Trackbacks

  1. […] you don’t have strong enough light to make something more dynamic. It’s certainly a style I’ve been exploring increasingly – beginning consciously with Havana – but what […]

  2. […] to the image. The photographer and blogger Ming Thein has recently written an excellent post on defining style and finding your own where he identifies the elements of style that photographers can tune to make something distinctive […]

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