The pre-shot checklist

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All of the below applies, even in a situation like this. What you’re not seeing is that it isn’t a Wild-West quick draw: it’s more like the preparation of a sniper.

There are many different types of photographers; all the way from the fully spontaneous use-whatever-falls-to-hand-and-just-hit-the-shutter-so-long-as-I-get-an-image, to the people who only photograph under 100% controlled situations – think still life in a studio, tethered. I’m somewhere in the middle, though definitely much further towards the latter end of the spectrum. The reason I’m writing this article is because during a recent workshop, I was asked by a student if I really kept all of the ‘four important things’ (and sub things) in my head and under active consideration even in a split-second instant; the answer is yes, and there’s quite a bit more on top of that – but I’ve been doing it for so long that the vast majority of the whole capture process becomes second nature.

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Photoessay: Urban evenings

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Not much to say about this one: I, as much as the next guy, love a good sunset. I can’t honestly think of a better way to end the day. You may well find several of these to be in an eminently painterly style, too. Enjoy! MT

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A photo reflects the photographer

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Escape from yourself: clouds are like thoughts, the clear blue sky is freedom, and the person left behind is your ego. The car represents your way out, and the road is the constraints of your mind, complete with bright areas, order, logic, and dark, unconscionable ones.

I’ve often been accused of making images that are precise, cold and soulless; the more I look at images from other photographers, I’m inclined to agree. Taken in context with the opening title of this article, that probably doesn’t bode well for impressions of me as a person. It did get me thinking, though: since the act of photographing is really one of conscious exclusion in which we eliminate all of the elements that are distracting or unnecessary to the subject/ story, what does this say about us?

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Photoessay: People of Cuba, part II

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Soldiers, I. Apparently you are not supposed to photograph them, or secure installations. When faced with this kind of challenge I invariably have to get an image…

Today’s photoessay is the continuation of the curated collection of people I photographed in Havana – (part I is here) the tricky part was to try to avoid cliches (unsuccessful, I think) but at the same time get a decent representation of activity. I think many of my students did this better – my Asian reserve prevented me from sticking my head into doorways and windows of homes (though that’s different if I’m on assignment) – but beyond that, I prefer to photograph people in a natural state without them being conscious of my presence and changing their behaviour to suit; whatever it was they were doing that was interesting in the first place would almost certainly cease and change.

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Getting over the hump

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There comes a point in the growth of every photographer where they reach a ‘hump’ which appears to be insurmountable in any obvious way: you just don’t think you can get any better, no matter what you do. This may be at a very low level, or a very high one; depending on your natural visual aptitude. But it happens to everybody – it’s happened to me several times in the past. Today I’d like to talk about things you can do to move past it and up your game. After all, everybody wants to make better images, right?

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Photoessay: The Verticality Project

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I: Kuala Lumpur

‘Project’-type photography – images shot to a theme as an exercise or assignment or with a view to an eventual exhibition – is generally a good way to motivate you to shoot if you’re stuck for inspiration. It narrows down the entire universe of possible subjects to just a few, or one. Or a single style. That restriction prevents the mental anguish of overload: either too many things to shoot, or nothing that really stands out in a visual barrage. If you’ve extensively shot the place you live in, it’s probably the former; the result is that you don’t land up photographing unless you take a trip or there’s an event – i.e. something out of the ordinary. The latter is what happens during that trip: perhaps there’s no inspiration, or there are just too many possible subjects, which result in a photographer losing focus and making a weak portfolio. Focus of effort is therefore generally a good idea. Believe it or not, this is actually the first intensely focused project of its sort I’ve attempted.

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Questioning the ‘art’ market

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Too commercial, with no artistry required, apparently.

Attempting to make the transition – perhaps augmentation is a more accurate description – from commercial photographer to fine art photographer as a profession in the last six months has not been easy. I suspect there are quite a few reasons for this: firstly, [defining a product] has become a significantly larger challenge since you are not creating to-spec for a client, but creating something you imagine from scratch. That something has to be visually distinctive enough to stand out, aesthetically pleasing enough to elicit desire, and exclusive enough to appeal to the typical art buyer.

And here the conflict begins.

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Photoessay: People of Cuba, part I

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One suitcase, many possible professions

Today’s photoessay is the first part of my report from the streets of Cuba. I tried to go in with as few preconceptions as possible, to just observe and shoot; there’s a little bit of movement away from the anonymity I’d been pursuing in my previous images. Perhaps it’s because the city itself is not anonymous or uniform or soulless or a cookie-cutter copy of every other first world city; the individuals mattered again – even when they were in groups.

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New comment and email policy

Thanks to an unusually large number of rude, profane and personally insulting communications in recent weeks – following reviews, especially – I have decided to implement a new policy regarding comments and emails. I have no problem with friendly and objective disagreements – they spur discussion and knowledge sharing, and this is what the site is about; however, abusiveness and insult will not be tolerated.

Site comments, Facebook, twitter and other public fora:

  • Please use a consistent username when commenting. All current readers with an approved comment should have no problems posting without moderation.
  • Posts from new commenters will be held for moderation.
  • Posts with a lot of links from any user will be held automatically for moderation; this is a WordPress thing to prevent spam (or in case somebody’s account has been hijacked).
  • Abusive, rude or trolling comments towards me or anybody else will be treated as follows: the first one will be left there because it will be obvious to the civilised rest of the community that you are a troll to be ignored, and clearly have social and mental deficiencies. Subsequent comments will be deleted and your username and IP blacklisted. I will no longer waste time replying you or engaging you in discussion.

Email and other private messaging:

  • I will still do my best to reply all emails so long as they’re legitimate.
  • Trolling, spam or rude emails will be ignored and deleted.
  • Repeated ‘what should I buy’ emails will be ignored.

To put it bluntly, I do this for free. I no longer have the time, patience or desire to deal with idiots. Thank you. MT

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A few places left for Making Outstanding Images Chicago (September 2014), Masterclass San Francisco (September 2014). Masterclass Venice (November 2014) now open for booking – click here to book or for more info

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

On Assignment: new car launch, part II


30s cut – for air

Continued from part I.

Right after the last file was returned from the retoucher, checked and sent off, I packed myself up to go on the tech reccie for the next part of the job: the TV commercial. Unusually, I wouldn’t be behind the camera this time: instead, I’d be occupying the folding canvas director’s chair. (I was surprised they existed, too). Read on to see life behind the lens from another angle…

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