Because somebody will eventually ask…

…”what gear do you use?” is the most common question I get from aspiring photographers or keen amateurs.

Gear doesn’t matter. Practice, on the other hand, does. I’ve got images in the Getty library that were shot on digital medium format; I’ve also got images shot with my iPhone. But I admit, like every other photographer, there is an element of gearhead geek in me. So here’s the current list:

Primary – Leica M (I’m Leica sponsored); M9-P chrome, 35/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE, 50/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH, 90/4 Macro-Elmarit-M (on it’s way, I’m told). Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon, ZM 2/50 Planar. I’ve also got a Visoflex III and Bellows II for macro work, and a home-made hotshoe mount PC sync cable that fits under the Visoflex housing to trigger my flashes.

Primary, special purpose – Nikon FX; D700+MBD10, D800E (on it’s way), AFS 24/1.4 G, AFS 60/2.8 G Micro, AFS 85/1.4 G, AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR G. Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 ‘Hollywood’ Distagon. A whole bunch of extension tubes and adaptors. Three SB900s and one SB700.

Compact – M4/3; Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1, ZD 12/2, ZD 45/1.8, ZD 14-42/3.5-5.6 IIR. Panasonic Lumix G 20/1.7. Contemplating the upcoming ZD 75/1.8 and ZD 60/2.8 macro.

Point and shoot – Leica D-Lux 5 (incoming), Ricoh GR Digital III and of course the iPhone 4.

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…”how do I get better?” comes from people serious about learning.

As I said before: practice, practice, practice. Also, look at other people’s work; famous work; what don’t you like, what do you like? Can you figure out how they did it? Can you figure out why the shot works, or doesn’t? Critical analysis of an image often yields insights into composition that will help you instinctively arrange your frame when you look through the finder. And the two most important tips are a) watch the edges of your frame and b) make sure your subject is clear: if you don’t know what it is, then it’s almost certain nobody else will, either. And that makes for a very weak photograph.

…”how much do you (or should I) charge?” comes from people who want to turn pro.

How much do you think your work is worth? What is your opportunity cost? If you’re asking how much I charge, if we were in head to head competition, could you justify what you’re asking?

…”what’s your workflow like?” comes from professionals.

RAW > ACR > Photoshop – nothing else gives me enough control over individual files, and even batches of files. I don’t like libraries; I don’t like batch editing; and I don’t believe in using JPEG unless you don’t have a choice, or your image is baked and done (and it’s appropriate for the final intended use).

…”what’s your day job?” is what I inevitably get from old hands who’ve seen the game change from film to digital to social media and wonder how on earth there can be so much content out there – some truly great and probably only made accessible by the digital era; yet so little appreciation for art.

A job is a means to an end: sadly, yes, I do have a day job that provides the backbone of my income. Suffice to say it isn’t photography, or even photographically related šŸ™‚


  1. Ming, these days I’ve decided on using my Leica M6TTL ( because I still like film for nature and landscape and sometimes I get sick of using menus for picture taking! ) and an OLYPUS OM-D for travel photography. I was just wondering as I am pondering a macro lens. I know the new 60 for the Olympus is good but what I know nothing about is the Leica 90 / 4 Macro Elmarit M which you mention above. I’ve already got a 90mm Elmarit 2.8 so I don’t need that focal length but I do appreciate light weight and close up ability. I8m sure the Leica has enough quality ALL Leica lenses do.
    so what i am wondering is if you have any experience with the Leica M macro lens? Is it worth the expense? Too much fuss to use in practice with the adaptor? or should I just get the Olympus and be done with it. It’s remarkably cheap here in Japan compared to the Leica so it’s almost hard not to buy it!

    • It’s F4, manual focus, requires adaptors and only gets to 1:4; it’s also very expensive and of limited use on the M system because of parallax (even with the goggles) and the associated inability to frame precisely. Doesn’t make any sense. The M system is just NOT meant for macrophotography; I’ve tried it more seriously than most.

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