Photographic aspirations, part three: a manifesto

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Take your beliefs to the streets.

I actually wrote something like this quite some time ago – it’s still on my flickr ‘about’ page, I believe. It’s actually interesting from a strange self-analysis point of view to see how my views of photography have morphed in the last few years, partially as a consequence of experience, and partially due to the shift towards commercial work. So, perhaps I’ll revisit this post again in another few years and see how things have changed again…

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Poignant thoughts can strike at any time, like on the 10.42 Yurikamome line to Odaiba.

1. Practice is still key. You can only improve so much through theory alone.

2. But less is more. You are what you show, and this is ever more true the more public your profile becomes. Choose your images carefully; force yourself to discard anything that isn’t perfect (or not show it, you might want to keep it for personal reasons).

3. Experimentation is good. Failure is a merely by-product that contains useful information, so long as you can remain objective and analytical about it: there’s no way I’d have my film developing technique down in a couple of dozen rolls if it weren’t for the scientific approach. If you don’t get out of your comfort zone, how are you going to do anything different? Otherwise, the outcomes will be the same within a given range. If you’re happy with that, that’s fine, but in the long run – especially in the commercial world – things will move on, and you’ll get left behind.

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Leave your mark.

4. The camera itself doesn’t make a difference. But it can condition you to shoot in a way that does end up with a different result, and sometimes, if you get bored, maybe it’s time for a change. I’m a gearhead – it’s an occupational hazard – but I don’t let the gear be the end all. I can still make images I’m happy with regardless of what I’m using.

5. Development of personal style is important, but so is revenue. I have to balance what I like, versus what the client likes. Most of the time, they’re not the same thing. Occasionally, you get assignments where it is – if you don’t really pull out all the stops and run with those, you’ll probably regret it later.

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Ask why.

6. The moment matters, but the emotion matters more. Emotion is how we build a deeper connection with our audience: the more you can influence emotion through the elements of an image, the stronger the image. I spend a lot more time thinking about this now than just raw composition.

7. Everything is nothing without light. I’ve always said this: you can make an amazing image out of a boring subject with the right light, but not the other way around. And then there are of course the other three tombstone items…3/4 just ain’t gonna cut it anymore.

8. Pursue opportunity. This could be photographic, commercial, or both; you never know which alley that gives you a tingle might open up onto a plaza that yields some portfolio-grade frames. You never know which chance meeting or email might open doors. You never know which post might just get the attention of a large potential client. I remember something on the bedroom wall of a friend at university: it’s better to die from exhaustion rather than boredom.

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In the end, it’s action that will make the difference. Words are merely filler for blog posts.

9. If you feel yourself starting to flag or fade, stop. For something that’s supposed to be fun or recreational – personal work, for instance – this is a sign that you’re probably overdoing it and it’s become a chore. There’s no point because you’re just going to waste time and be unhappy with the result. For professional work, if your eyes are glazing over, take a break. Taking shortcuts is bad in the long run. Believe me, I know how tempting it is to gloss over the difficult bits or retouch at 100% (instead of 200%) in the interests of finishing everything; if you do it, later on you’ll either have revisions, or find that you missed more than a spot…

10. Never compromise. I – you, me, everybody – have a choice. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to; the problem is, we tend to do it out of inertia, perceived obligation or desire for money. I made a conscious choice to be a photographer instead of a corporate man; I can just as easily make a conscious choice in the opposite direction. But so long as I’m making the choice to do something, there’s really no point in doing a half-baked job and then either ruining your reputation, or worse, regretting not putting in more effort later on. So, if I write a post, sell a print, or do a job, I’m going to do it right, to the best of my ability. You and I won’t be happy if I do otherwise – and this means that I can’t and won’t do it cheaper because I’m not going to cut corners. Do something well, or don’t do it at all.

It seems that my photographic beliefs have changed into semi-philosophical ways to live life, too; I suppose that makes sense now that photography is pretty much my life rather than just a diversion. I suppose balance is the next thing I have to find…MT

Note: in this article, the captions and images are satirical jokes. The text is about photography, not politics. It’s sad that I feel obliged to include this disclaimer in the interests of protecting myself from liability due to political misinterpretation under Malaysia’s Section 114 laws.


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  1. Point 9. (flag or fade)

    I read somewhere that going out deliberately seeking pictures, is a sure path to disappointment, and the only difference between looking for pictures, and letting them come to you, is the lack of pressure?

    I suppose, in a non-commercial sense, the above advice may prove somewhat useful. But how do photographers break the stalemate of a creative logjam when the client expects?


    • Good question: keep work and personal photography distinct and separate. One inspires the other – my commercial work makes me seek out and appreciate still life. My personal work makes me chase tonality and timing in my professional work. Etc.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      My best photos just appeared in front of me. When I’m looking to do photos usually nothing happens…saddly.

  2. I try to take photo anything what I see 🙂

  3. Jorge Balarin says:

    Thanks for your ideas Ming.

  4. I have to work on point number 2, as I have the terribly tendency to become attached to even the poorest of photos I take. Great list – I’m sure I’ll find the need to refer back to it if ever I should lose my photographic vision!

  5. As a creative professional, the most powerful thing you can tell someone is no. It is not always easy to turn down work, but it is a necessary part of the business. I always ask myself, if it was not for the money, would I still do the work.

    • Absolutely – and not saying no when perhaps one should have can be worse for your reputation and creative stamina in the long run…

  6. Wonderful article Ming! “I suppose balance is the next thing I have to find” Great Goal!


  1. […] written about various personal approaches to photography – manifestoes or beliefs or aspirations or aims if you will. I’ve written about why we photograph and the relationship between […]

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