Off topic: personal/portable audio

_8B13436 copy
From left to right: Sony XBA-A2; Astell & Kern AK100 player; UE Triple.Fi 10P with custom cable; Audio-Technica IM50; Audio-Technica IM03; B&W P7; 6G iPod Nano.

I spend a lot of time on the road. Probably quite a lot more than the average person*. This has always been the case because I’ve almost always been in the service industry in a client-facing role, which means plenty of air miles. In a bid to make the commute a bit more pleasant – possibly even enjoyable – I slowly sank into the world of portable audio. This was 2003. I’m sure like horology, cars, cigars and the like there are more than a small number of people here who’ve also made that journey. Today’s post is a sort of meandering of thoughts – there are a number of parallels between photography and personal audio, both in the industry and the hobby, and perhaps some thoughts to take away. Plus, which serious listener isn’t always seeking the ideal setup? :) Read on, or skip forward if you’re not an audiophile.

*According to my frequent flyer statement, 540,000 miles in 2014.

[Read more…]

‘Interstellar’, the movies, and the general creative state of play

Interstellar official trailer #3

I found time to watch a movie the other day. This is an unusual occurrence for me because it takes a huge chunk out of my day; but it was raining and I was on foot without an umbrella. Interstellar was showing, and happened to be something whose trailer did actually show promise. Plus I’m a huge Christopher Nolan fan; I have no doubt that history will look back on him as one of the greats – both for his visuals and his storytelling. This post is not so much a review as some observations and musings after three hours in a theatre seat from the point of view of a photographer…

[Read more…]

OT: Of cars and cameras

_DSF1891bw copy
Race girl

In many ways, the two industries are frighteningly similar: technologically complex, requiring huge capital investment for relatively small margins, enormous marketing machines, some semblance of ‘celebrity’ endorsement, and ever shrinking improvements just waiting for whatever technology is just over the bend (hybrids, Foveon sensors, etc.). Perception over substance rules, too. And there’s a lot of crossover between the enthusiasts of both – I have a huge number of students who are also petrolheads. But there are enough differences that one could learn from the other, I think…

[Read more…]

A very OT review: the 2013 BMW Z4 28i

_8039168 copy

In a break from regular programming, I’m going to take up one of my readers’ suggestions from a flickr comment and review something different for a change: a car. There are a few automotive journalists I admire and whose work I enjoy for various reasons; the Top Gear trio, Chris Harris, etc. But I’m going to approach this in the same style I approach my camera reviews: from an unashamedly practical standpoint and with some nice images. I’m an enthusiast and nothing more. Read on if you dare.

[Read more…]

OT: Thoughts on blogging in an increasingly crowded space

_8026192bw copy
Content consumption and creation is a 24/7 business.

The internet is no longer the tool of knowledge sharing it originally started out being: it’s a commercial and marketing platform, pure and simple. Money goes to he who shouts the loudest, whether they might have anything worth listening to or not. Like everything, there’s good and bad to this. The good is easy: it’s made doing business ever easier than before (even if Paypal takes a huge cut as financial gatekeeper); especially for small businesses and individual proprietors who’d otherwise never have had access to those customers or audiences. Information is easily available; almost everything is there if you look hard enough. And on top of that, there are new and exciting streams of income that simply didn’t exist 15 years ago – sponsorship, paid blogging, pay-per-click, email harvesting…but is any of it really sustainable?

[Read more…]

Choice, compromise and creativity

_DSF1825 copy

_6001446 copy

What do these two things have in common, other than they’re from (very, very loosely, give or take a decade) the same era?

[Read more…]

Taking stock

_5019362 copy Time for a breather.

For those of you who are curious about what I do, (and also so I don’t forget)…as far as I can determine, here’s the current list of my regular activities. I’ve found that I certainly can’t do the same one thing for long, and there’s definite value in having inspiration from many sources.

[Read more…]

Off topic: hobbies and photographers

_0011353 copy

It seems that a lot of my other photographically-inclined friends and students share the same few passions – watches/ horology, cars, cigars, food/ wine, travel, and to some extent, hi-fi. It could be because serious photographers tend to be mostly male (no sexism intended, but 90% of my reader demographic and students are male) and these are male pursuits; however, the funny thing is that a good number of the ladies in the 10% share these interests, too. I’m not counting casual or passing fancies here – I’m only including people serious enough to devote a meaningful chunk of time and income towards these hobbies. Even so, the numbers are overwhelmingly in favor of just a few pursuits*.

*My point of view could however be biased by the demographic of my readers; I suppose if I surveyed those who lived in countries with strong anti-smoking laws, expensive car operating costs, and reasonable public transport – sounds like the UK – we’d find that cigars and cars drop off the list.

[Read more…]

The commercial reality of reviews, writing and blogging

It would be an understatement to say that the site has taken on a life of its own far beyond what I would have envisioned a year ago. (At that point, I’d have been happy not to see a zero traffic count when I checked at the end of the day.) We have pretty much a complete ecosystem – Facebook page with 4600+ fans, a very active Flickr pool with 4,700 accepted images, 800-odd contributors, and on average, two hundred images for me to moderate daily; there’s of course the iPad app, and various local communities of readers and fans brought together by various events and workshops.

I post at least every two days, and sometimes more frequently than that. The posts average 2,000 words in length – those of you who haven’t been out of college that long will remember essays of that length took some time and effort to complete – plus the correct images and illustrations required to support the text. Some of these are even longer – camera reviews run in the 4,000-5,000 word range, and require even more extensive testing under controlled circumstances, plus shooting images specifically for the site. Let’s not even talk about how much time is taken up by double checking anomalies that could be potentially caused by sample variation or file handling. Magnum opuses – like the Camerapedia and dictionary (exclusive to the iPad app) – have upwards of 30,000 words and take cumulative weeks of work.

Then there’s the correspondence: direct emails, comments, Facebook messages and posts, Flickr messages and posts, group threads. I have no idea how many individual messages this comes to, but I do know that on an average day, I get 200-300 emails. Long ago – perhaps foolishly – I made a promise that I’d do my best to reply to and interact with all of the readers who cared to do so. I’m sticking by that, because I think it’s one of the things that differentiates this site from others – especially the larger ones where the proprietors sit in the clouds and pontificate, then largely ignore their readers.

[Read more…]

Ignorance, fear and photographic freedoms in Malaysia

_M9P1_L1006044bw copy
Photograph all you want. Prague, Leica M9-P, 50/1.4 ASPH

Several recent experiences in Kuala Lumpur have prompted me to write this article. They’re all pretty similar: I’m out and about walking on a public road, photographing various objects – never people – and I will be accosted by a rent-a-cop or security guard telling me that I am not allowed to photograph. Photograph what, specifically? Everything and anything which he deems is under his jurisdiction. There are two problems here: firstly, photographing from a public place is allowed so long as you are not on private property; the intended use is actually irrelevant – at least in Malaysia. The second problem is that these people are often immigrants who have both a very poor command of any of the local languages, zero to no education, and often questionable immigration status.

_3100_DSC0650 copy
Think carefully. Though this was shot a few years ago from the street and a good 50m away, I still subsequently had unhappy people waving and holding out stop-hands at me. Nikon D3100, 28-300VR

What this means is that even though you might be able to legitimately convince another person that you’re within your legal rights to photograph where you’re standing, you’re at a dead end because the rent-a-cop you’ve got to deal with is both ignorant and incommunicable. It’s extremely annoying because I’ve had this happen four times in the past week; I know my legal rights and won’t push it in a situation where I’m on private property and I’m trying my luck. The trouble is that this seems to be a worrying trend; it’s happened with increasing frequency over the last year or two. And it’s not because I’m photographing any different subjects than normal, or any more frequently – if anything, I’m shooting a bit less of my own personal work.

Although you could try very hard to convince them that you are a) harmless and b) within your rights, I’ve since found it less frustrating to simply move on to the next place and try to continue shooting – assuming of course that I’m still in the mood at all.

I can see why some of the more interesting places might be off limits – building owners have a legitimate interest in protecting their property rights after all; the problem comes when somebody is trying to protect rights that are not legitimately theirs in the first place. In fact, smart building owners should generally encourage non-commerical photography – in a world that is now full of social-media savvy consumers, you’d be stupid not to do otherwise. I can’t see any downside in having hundreds of images – some of them probably quite good – of your property out there, especially if it’s a commercial building and high tenancy rates are one of your objectives.

This level of ignorance is a very sad thing for Malaysia, because it compounds the existing lack of appreciation for art the population at large already suffers from. People are very happy to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a stack of PowerPoint slides that contain absolute garbage and executionally impossible strategies, or for life insurance schemes with an EV far less than parity – yet something that actually requires skill such as the production of a photograph, or copywriting – goes completely unappreciated.

The underlying problem is twofold: firstly, education, and secondly, something a little more deep-seated that’s a cultural mentality which we shouldn’t be proud of – and certainly shouldn’t keep encouraging. The lack of education keeps the population as a whole focused on assigning value to tangible things only – ignorance keeps people from realizing the added value of service, design, packaging, visuals – in short, the whole customer experience. It seems that repeat customers are not really a high priority for most businesses here – they just want your money; whether you come back or not is not their problem. It certainly isn’t the problem of the minimum wage employees actually doing the work.

A viciously destructive cycle is born: you don’t get repeat customers because the service is crap, so you have to cut costs to maintain profitability, which means even worse service, and even fewer customers. Do something wrong, and everybody is reading about it on Facebook or Twitter in a matter of minutes. Make the wrong person angry, and that number can easily run into the tens of thousands. The inverse is also true, of course. (It’s just one of the many reasons why I try to reply to every single message I get.)

I can’t help but wonder if a lot of why we’re stopped from photographing things is because there may be some borderline illegal elements at play – foreign workers without permits or operation without permits or licenses are at the top of the list, and both are rampant in Malaysia. In cases like this, I can understand why proprietors get understandably nervous about any form of documentary, especially cameras. A government that seems to turn a blind eye to this kind of thing for the right amount of ‘convincing’ does not help things, either. Once again, it boils down to a lack of education – forget prioritizing a sustainable business over a profitable one – and the cultural obsession with making money any way possible. Again: if you’re running a legitimate operation, a smart person would want as much publicity as possible to create awareness. It would seem that there are not so many smart people here.

On the whole, I’m both saddened and frustrated. Malaysia remains one of the most rich countries for photographic opportunity because of both the pace of change, depth and variety of cultural traditions and large social contrasts. It’s a great place to practice social documentary and architectural photography – or it would be, if we could just photograph within our rights. Interestingly, I’ve almost never experienced this kind of restriction overseas – I don’t know if it’s because I fit the stereotypical Asian tourist profile, or because the general level of education is higher, but the difference can be felt. In fact, I think I only remember being stopped from photographing something once in London – and I was at fault because I was trying to be stealthy despite the liberally posted ‘No Photography’ signs inside a private museum.

There is one workaround, however. Despite proliferation of cameras and variety, the perception of ‘big black camera equals threatening’ remains; use a small, nondescript compact and you’re generally ignored. (In fact, I was most frequently stopped when shooting with the F2T; it probably doesn’t help that I’m very, very slow with this camera due to a lack of built in metering, manual focusing and general care with film.) Fortunately, compact camera technology has evolved enough that using one doesn’t entail as much of a compromise in image quality as it would have done a few years ago – even under low light conditions. Granted, I love the D700+85/1.8G’s ability to make beautifully cinematic stills at night, but I can still do exhibition-grade work with the RX100 and it’s 28/1.8 equivalent. What it does mean is that a change of style is in order; mainly because I no longer have the same freedom of choice in equipment if I want to shoot the same subjects – or, I simply have to shoot different subjects.

I suppose one really has to look at the bright side of things here – I could continue to bemoan the ignorance and diminiution of photographic freedom, or I could embrace the forced change as a challenge to push me out of my comfort zone which would in turn force my evolution as a photographer. I might not like it, or think the overall change in societal attitude is a good thing, but it’s not as though we have much of a choice is it? MT


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33,843 other followers