Spheres of influence – or, the butterfly effect

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Moonrise, redux. How many times have we seen a scene like this in a movie? For me, enough that it was in my subconscious when I shot the watch.

Following on from yesterday’s reposted article on influences, I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the topic. Influences go both ways – as in we are as much receptive as we are conductive – and this can be both conscious and subconscious. I don’t claim to be anything more than a casual interested observer when it comes to the field of human psychology, but I do notice after a while, big groups of people tend to act and think the same if they spend enough time together; I suppose it’s some form of subconscious normalization that happens in order to maintain the peace. And those who don’t fit will feel sufficiently uncomfortable to leave or be ejected – or if they’re strong influencers themselves, land up as leaders.

I see this mentality all the time in anything where a choice is required, and there’s no clear right or wrong; be it corporate behaviour, camera choices or composition. I don’t think I’ve done myself any favors in the past by being a misfit and having strong opinions (as has been cited and criticised many times on various fora and elsewhere) – too bad. What I did find, though, is that going against your own internal compass and following the masses leads to the sort of mental discomfort that produces ulcers. So: if you can’t follow, why try? More importantly, one has to be prepared for some friction.

There are of course enough people out there that everybody can eventually find a group that shares similar views; such places are great for building confidence and comforting the ego, but ultimately may lead to creative stagnation. Creativity, by definition, is something that requires a tangible difference to what came before. I can’t remember who said it, but everything that’s new now was old once; what’s required is a judicious application of timing. Recognition of such is even harder: often, it’s not those that do it first that reap the rewards, but those who implement and market it best. Case in point: touch-screen smartphones didn’t start with the iPhone, or the Palm (XYZ), but arguably Apple implemented it the best, and at a time where people were getting bored of buttons, and there was only so much more in the way of features/ size reduction that could be achieved with conventional keypad designs.

I think it’s the same case with photography: things go in circles. I once received a comment on an image shot with a Hasselblad on film that was along the lines of “Nice, what Hipstagram filter did you use?” At this point I of course wanted to slap the person silly – or as much as can be done in a virtual environment – but it did get me thinking. If one’s knowledge doesn’t extend any further back than the last few years, then there’s no awareness of film, of medium format, of earlier formats, hell, of why most of the pop art filters look the way they do. Pretty much everything there can be traced back to earlier influences: cross processing was initially a mistake; Disneyland color came from slide film; squares came from medium format; high contrast B&W came from early photojournalism and limitations of fast films, and so on. Were the creators of the apps influenced by this? Undoubtedly. Were they aware of the historical context? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? Almost certainly not.

I’ve often said what matters is the end result – the image. I stand by that. But I do believe that being unaware of history – or at least some context – limits how much you can get out of something, be it a processing technique or a style or a piece of equipment. There’s no arguing that shooting film with a Hasselblad changes the nature of your images: they tend to be slower, more thought out, and there’s a heavy emphasis on active metering and tonal choices – a consequence of loading it with black and white film, not having a meter, and having to focus manually with fairly shallow depth of field for a given angle of view. Oh, and it’s unlikely one would compose with 16:9 in mind if you have a square viewfinder.

Let’s continue to run with this example. A little while back, I found that one of the most compelling features of the Ricoh GR  (Digital V, reviewed here and compared against the Coolpix A, here) was its ability to output native squares and files that had excellent tonality for monochrome conversion. Now, this is a feature every other GR-Digital I’ve owned (I, II and III) has had but I’ve never used. The only difference between then and now is that I’ve spend some significant time with a Hasselblad, and greatly enjoy it. Coincidence? I think not.

It’s almost certainly also not coincidence that a lot of my students find they greatly enjoy the cinematic style after attending one of my workshops* – that would be because it’s something I teach as part of the exploring style exercise, and if we go further back, it’s because my photography is heavily influenced by cinema. Cinema, in turn, is influenced by the dramatization of events, which presumably happen in the lives of people. At each turn, the person responsible for passing the bar adds a little of his or her own interpretation into the mix; be it the camera angle, color grading, composition, postprocessing etc. Perhaps one of the movies I’ve seen was based on an event or true story which one of my students might have been involved in. Guess what: we’ve come full circle.

*And there’s still a chance to experience it personally in Europe, if you’re interested – please see here for details.

My writing is affected by many things: my own personal experiences, what I enjoy reading, what I’ve shot, and what other external influences have touched me during the time immediately preceding any given article. I’m sure that given the same topic and message objective, every single photography writer would approach it in a different way, being a consequence of their own experiences. (These experiences go to make up who we are as people, but the physicist in me has to attribute it to random fluctuations in the quantum foam…)

For instance, the  watch in the title image is a new version of the watch that did in fact accompany the Apollo astronauts to the moon; granted, in fifty years, technology has improved (slowly, this is an industry that’s built on tradition and heritage, remember), cases have gotten larger, and prices have increased, but the original DNA is still very much intact. A good number of people buy them because they believe they’re getting a bit of the moon story; and even more buy them because they’re recognisable status symbols…because of the moon heritage.

The same goes for cameras: we buy them not because we need them, but because we think we do. And we think we do because our favourite internet celebrities or photographers are using them to make great images, and so forth…this marketing 101, of course. What’s more interesting is that there’s very much a tiering system to this: I might be influenced by a prominent photographer I trust, in turn writing a review that highlights the camera’s capabilities, which then causes a reader to buy one. That somebody takes it to a family gathering where more casual users ask for advice – them being the go-to person for things photographic within the small immediate sphere – and thus more units are sold. Much has been written about the ‘butterfly effect’; little has been done to quantify it, perhaps because it’s so difficult to do so. Just how much of that reader’s decision was influenced by me, or by somebody else, or by an ad they saw, or by a handling experience they had in a store? Further down the line, how much of the revenue (and profit) is attributable to each?

I’m digressing a bit here: when it comes to image-making, there’s a continuum. Evolution of our personal work is a usually a continuous process, but sometimes can be a conscious step change – you could one day decide to abandon shooting horizontally, for instance. Or try film. Or large format scanning backs. Or move from a compact to an SLR. What I’m curious to know from the reader pool is to what extent they think creative development (in anything, I know there are a number of creative professionals outside photography who read this) is a result of passive-absorption, and to what extent it’s active, i.e. people experiencing those lightning-bolt strikes out of the blue. MT


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  1. Just simply want to stress I’m delighted that i came on the website!

  2. cranstonholden says:

    My goodness. I had to scroll for five minutes through all of the replies to get to the bottom so I could post. You are popular!! I almost forgot what I wanted to say…..

    “I’ve often said what matters is the end result” — great thought here.

    • Haha, thank you – I think this isn’t the worst in terms of comments, we’ve had 300+ on some posts before. 100+ is getting to be normal these days – and the great thing is most of the comments are just as interesting to read as the original post content! I guess I am doing my bit to influence after all…

  3. Speedmaster. THE chronograph. What a classic.
    Best if in its original format (no date window, three subdials).
    Thanks for sharing that image.

    • Mine’s the 2012 version with two subdials and the coaxial escapement with silicon bits…I think it’s a tastefully done update that brings the technology to the cutting edge without compromising the aesthetic. If only they’d kept the 42mm case though…

      • I find it tasteful too. But is the minute counter going around in 60 or 30 mins? ‘cos the 30 min original is much more highly readable at a glance. Wish my 1994 specimen had sapphire glass though. The original scratches easily.

        • It’s 60 – harder to read than 30, but you can get a rough idea of elapsed time quickly because hour/minute hands are concentric.

          At least the old crystals are easily polishable with a bit of Brasso!

  4. Ming: “I try not to about the death of the universe. Cosmology gave me very mixed feelings: on one hand, it put everything into perspective and understanding the universe – to some small extent at least – feels very liberating. On the other hand, it’s immensely depressing ”

    Practicing Medicine can do that to me too. Though I am not a Religious man, I have always had my own internal belief of an innate quality within each individual that shows when they make their choices in life, how they bear the consequences of those choices, and how they respond to the choices made by others. But seeing first hand how whole swathes of fundamental human behaviours can be manipulated by chemicals and direct interaction at a tissue level, can undermine my belief system in my darker moments.

    • I’ll have to ask my brother about this, he’s a doctor…

      • Is he a religious/spiritual person/man of belief?

        • Not really. I’d say he’s a scientist and a pragmatist first…

          • In which case he can probably just stand back and admire the sheer wonder of it all, without having to question the repercussions of the science on the beliefs – which I try and do, but like I said, on my darker days…

            • He does report becoming very detached to humanity sometimes though. I wonder if that’s a consequence of the medicine…and if so, how does one not fully lose it.

              • Oh, so its not just me then? Thats good to know….

                For me, this is an increasingly important issue…and stems largely from the arena I work in (the “ER”), where I have the privilege (and I am not using this term ironically or sarcastically!) of seeing some of our fellow man displaying some of their worst attributes on a regular basis. The hard parts are (a) remembering they aren’t actually representative of our kind being a heavily skewed sample, (b) aren’t the only people I see in my job (it just feels like it some days) and (c) are not exactly “at their best” at that point in time, and may have very real issues that have put them there.

                Increasingly it is hard to see past these negative aspects, through ever escalating sheer numbers seeking our services, and the expectations placed on us, both by society and our government. In reality my negativity is at the system rather than individuals or the field of work itself.

                How does one not fully lose it? Well, photography certainly helps me at least….

                (don’t want to jinx it, but I actually brought a philosophical discussion back to photography!)

                • I’m probably going to get shot for this, but I think the root cause for the increasing propagation of mediocrity and the entitlement culture is a societal system that’s not only tolerant of failure, but supportive of it; there is really no incentive to excel if you just want to survive. When I was working as a first-year auditor in the UK, my colleagues and I calculated that after tax, we only made about 15% more than somebody on benefits – but 80 hours weeks were pretty routine. This raises the question of ‘why bother?’ for most…

                  Bringing this back to photography, it means there’s little reason to go the extra mile since nobody else is going to bother/ notice anyway…

                  • Ming: “I’m probably going to get shot for this, but I think the root cause for the increasing propagation of mediocrity and the entitlement culture is a societal system that’s not only tolerant of failure, but supportive of it; there is really no incentive to excel if you just want to survive. When I was working as a first-year auditor in the UK, my colleagues and I calculated that after tax, we only made about 15% more than somebody on benefits – but 80 hours weeks were pretty routine. This raises the question of ‘why bother?’ for most…”

                    Well, it won’t be me on The Grassy Knoll… 😉

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Absolute Relativism vs. Relative Absolutism, Ming. I think the former overcoming the latter in our times plays a part…

                    F.F. Centore wrote a great book on it called Two Views of Virtue

                    [It, and his others, used to be free on Google books. I bought my copy, and treasure it, but his other stuff I read on Google books. All gone now 😮 ]

                    I don’t go about searching for books by esoteric academics, by the way. I wandered into a rare books [foreign language] floor in a bookshop in Ginza, saw this, liked the title copy. Opened it, read the first few lines — the choice of the very first line in a book is the ULTIMATE for me. From that one line, I take everything I need to know [about the author] — and really liked it. Knew I was safe in the hands of a writer. Looked at the price. Put it down again.

                    It played on my mind for days and weeks. I ended up going back and buying it => GOOD DECISION.

                    And back to that book floor again and again and again. Soon, I’d read Kierkegaard, Aristotle and Kant [tried to, that is]. I’d love to say that from there it all dovetailed out; it didn’t and hasn’t. At the same time I also bought and read and enjoyed the biography of Stone Cold Steve Austin, endless fluff in magazine articles at work and soul-sapping [to me now] Twitter feeds and whathave you…

                    I’m like Tony Hopkins’s Mr. Stevens in REMAINS OF THE DAY, Miss Kenton prizes the book from my fingers, only to see it’s a book, any book. I’ll read anything. It’s just all practice [and work] to me. Though unlike Mr Stevens, it’s a comfort when the topic interests and the writer entertains.

                    I appreciate that extra mile.

  5. Stephen Scharf says:

    Lots of stuff to mull over here, including the comment from Tom about the heat death of the universe; the only person other than myself that I’ve seen use that phrase (granted, I don’t hang out with physicists or cosmologists). With respect to influences, I wanted to inject the notion, that not only great artists, editorial content, craftsmen, and cinematographers have been strong influences on my work, but, in some cases, the gear itself can be an influence, too. I wholeheartedly agree that, at the end of the day, it’s photographer, not the box, that’s ultimately important in realizing a particular photographic vision. But what I’ve discovered for my own work, there’s no denying the fact that specific, certain cameras allow me to visualize my work imuch more effectively than others. In this sense, I wanted to riff off of JerryR’s comments about his Fuji X-E1. My X-Pro1 is the first camera that I’ve owned and used that takes me back to my roots of learning the art and craft of photography with my much-loved Olympus OM-1, and that process of “going home” has been more gratifying than I could have possibly imagined after a decade working exclusively with Canon 1D bodies. Those Canon 1D bodies are scarily effective in what they do; they do what they do incredibly well; but again as Jerry points out, in a rather clinical way. My X-Pro1, on the other hand, demands that I intellectually re-engage with the process of making images, re-engage in a way that has re-invigorated my passion for photography after becoming jaded shooting professional motorsports photojournalism for over a decade with a 1D-body. That physical, hands-on connection, plus the mind-blowing image quality, allows me to realize a vision for a different class of images that I wasn’t able to achieve previously.

    I shot film, both color (slides only) and black and white for many, many years before going digital in 2003. Being trained and becoming competent in using film in a wide variety of applications really helps one get their “chops down”. For example, I’ve shot Formula 1 with Kodachome 64 with an Olympus OM-1 and manual focus lenses, and produced beautiful images in doing so. That extensive experiece provides a foundation of technique that only extends and enhances the additional functionality, versatility and control one can get with digital, but also serves as an influence in how I approach my work today.

    I now feel, that the digital cameras we have now (particularly the new mirrorless digitals, with their marked improvements in dynamic range, signal to noise, and image quality) in combination with the quality of conversion and control the tools we have for editing in post (including the superlative RAW conversion capabilities of Capture One, and to a lesser extent, Lightroom); that the confluence of these two classes of image-making tools influence me as much as Kertesz, Eisenstadt, Frank, Capa, ever did.

    So for me, it’s a confluence of things, all of which actually interact with each other, that are providing my sources of influence.

    • I try not to about the death of the universe. Cosmology gave me very mixed feelings: on one hand, it put everything into perspective and understanding the universe – to some small extent at least – feels very liberating. On the other hand, it’s immensely depressing because there is absolutely nothing we can do about any of it; everything takes place on a scale that’s way beyond us.

      Almost all of the modern pro digital bodies have that cold, clinical disposability about them; I use them for commercial work but don’t bond with them. I agree it’s usually the quirky ones that give you your eyes back – for me, the OM-D and Ricoh GR/ Nikon Coolpix A.

      Does your earlier experience with film influence the way you expose and process digital?

      • Stephen Scharf says:

        “Does your earlier experience with film influence the way you expose and process digital?”

        In some respects, yes. Because I exclusively shot color with slide film and typically the slowest film I could get away with, and as slide film has a much narrower latitude than B&W or print film, I shot with the same approaches when I start using digital; in other words, the discipline learned working with limited exposure latitude served me well in transitioning to digital. Back in the “early days” of digital, if you remember, digital had latitude pretty close to slide film, so it was a pretty natural transition in terms of exposing my images. In terms of processing, transitioning to digital meant learning an entirely new science, the science of color gamuts, sensor response, gray levels, exposing to the right because of where most of the data was in digital files, understanding bit depth and rendering intents. I spent the better part of an entire year learning color management, including taking a course with Andrew Rodney, so that I understood what I was doing when making a print.

        • That makes sense – I found the same thing, but the other way around. (The D2H was quite similar to Velvia in how unforgiving and limited it was in dynamic range.) Color response was quite another thing, though. I’m just curious to see if film shooters actually want to make their digital work share a similar color palette, or if you feel liberated without the restrictions specific to the recording medium.

          • Stephen Scharf says:

            “I’m just curious to see if film shooters actually want to make their digital work share a similar color palette”

            Not particularly. I guess when I think back about the film stocks I used that I liked best, I’d have to say Fuji Provia, as I liked it’s accuracy and neutrality. Especially when compared to K64 or Velvia. And so, I guess that’s what I’ve striven for in shooting digital: accuracy, linearity, neutrality and naturalness.

            Here’s a story for you: back when I started doing the pro motorsports PJ gig, a buddy of mine that was a Nikon shooter swore that *nothing* could match his Fuji FinePix S2 Pro for naturalness and beauty of color, and particularly for skin tones for portraiture. It was also very popular at the time with studio and wedding photographers for those very reasons. I dismissed his comment with a polite but cursory “Uh-huh”….

            It wasn’t until I got my Fuji X10, and subsequently, my X-Pro1 that I finally knew what he was talking about. While I love the color from my OM-D, I have to agree with my friend: I haven’t shot with any other camera that match those gorgeous Fuji colors. And I think that’s directly attributable to Fuji’s extensive experience with color film that allows them to make digital cameras with this incredibly beautiful color.

            • Makes sense. I don’t at all like the native output of the Nikons; only the Olympus’ JPEGs are moderately useable out of camera. The CFV-39 files are even better, but it doesn’t shoot JPEG 🙂

  6. John Walton says:

    Hi Ming,

    You asked:
    “What I’m curious to know from the reader pool is to what extent they think creative development (in anything, I know there are a number of creative professionals outside photography who read this) is a result of passive-absorption, and to what extent it’s active, i.e. people experiencing those lightning-bolt strikes out of the blue.”

    I love looking at other people’s photos, and I love giving my cameras to my children to see what images they take – I want to see their perspective.

    My favourite photographers are people like Ansel Adams, Sebatiao Salgado, Elliott Erwitt, Rene Burri, William Eggleston, Robert Mapplethorpe and a host of others. But I do find that aspiring to what they do is a distraction – other people’s perfect images are noise when it comes to my own photography. Sure, we all absorb what we see, but for me it is a mistake to think too long and hard about what others do. My goal is to develop my own voice – becoming technically accomplished (if I ever achieve that) is not enough in itself.

    The hard part is finding your own voice, and then developing it. I think we all know instinctively what we like, and the images which appeal. Currently, I’m selling my M9-P (keeping my lenses and Monchrom) and buying a D800E, the new 80-400 and (on your advice) the 60/2.8 G Micro – this is a new journey for me which introduces a new discipline. I’m considering doing a 365 project when the camera arrives just to make myself try a bit harder.

    So, how do we develop our inner voice? I don’t think it is the influence of other photographers; or at least it shouldn’t be. We need to understand the technology and our equipment, and we need to understand how we can expand the qualities of our imagery using the equipment, but ultimately the equipment and the technology should fall away and your vision should shine through. So many of the best images have that look that saya “I could have taken that”.

    Yes, but you didn’t.


    • See just enough to be inspired, but not so much as to have your own vision clouded or get distracted? That makes sense…thanks for you thoughts.

      PS: would be great if you could use my referral links for your new toys! 🙂

  7. ” I don’t know about this. If we were shown a ‘famous image’ without context and without knowing it was supposed to be famous, would we still hold it in the same esteem? I’m not sure, in a lot of cases”

    Spot on. A number of authors have investigated the ‘talent verses reputation’ issue. Stephen King tested it with the ‘Richard Bachman books: the Bachman book ‘Thinner’ sold 28,000 copies during its initial run—and then ten times as many when it was revealed that Bachman was, in fact, King.
    I have a personal view that this is particularly relevant to photography as an art form, as it is peculiarly vulnerable to cliques, as a result of the barriers to entry that cost and technical understanding create. It is for example noticeable how many photography writers and practitioners accept that Gursky’s ‘Rhein 2’ is worth its position as the ‘most expensive photo ever sold’… Technically accomplished, yes – but show it at 4 by 6 to ‘average’ friends amongst some other landscape snaps, or post it on 500px or 1X, and would it even be noticed – other than criticised as boring and without a defined subject? (which are both criticisms it has received when I have tried this little experiment.)

    • I can’t even imagine what would put Rhein 2 in that league of value even at the largest possible size…irrespective of the background, my response was very much ‘What the hell…?’

      • Michael Matthews says:

        At which point the icons begin falling like rain.

        I have never encountered William Eggleston’s “The Red Ceiling” without having exactly that thought — particularly when its display is coupled with: “Eggleston considers it among his most challenging and powerful works, “so powerful that, in fact, I’ve never seen it reproduced on the page to my satisfaction”. ” (Wikipedia)

        Oh, come on. This frame clearly was made when its creator awoke with a horrible hangover after a night of debauchery, reached down to pick up the camera from the floor to which it had fallen, and accidentally pushed the shutter button.

        Or am I the only one?

      • I couldn’t possibly comment…. 🙂 But others have made much of his technical excellence vis-a-vis quality of the print, focus etc. One could observe that the ultimate expression of that sort of photographic art would be a very well printed test chart at maximum resolution…. Ironically, I think his Formula 1 series is visually arresting – and, funnily enough, similar to your cinematic stuff! As you say, round and round we go…

        • Agreed on his F1 work – I still can’t understand Rhein 2 though. Perhaps that’s the ‘why’ – you either get it, or you don’t; and all he needed was one person to ‘get it’, and the rest of us to talk about it…

      • Perhaps it is only viewing it at its largest size that one notices the condom floating on the water which gives the piece its whole narrative, and without which it becomes just a picture of a canal and a footpath on a grey, overcast day. If that isn’t it, then I have a great picture of a condom floating down a canal next to a footpath on a grey, overcast day, price on application!

  8. David Meyers says:

    I guess I’m a bit late to the party, but I feel a need to comment on the butterfly-effect contoversy that has arisen here. The point is *not* that a butterfly flapping its wings in one place *causes* a hurricane somewhere else. The point is that with chaotic systems, of which weather is certainly one, small differences in initial conditions can have huge effects down the road, which, incidentally, is why it is so hard to predict very far in advance. The butterfly wing flap causes a (very!) small effect on the condition of the world’s weather system at the time of the flap, the consequences of which are completely unpredictable, but nonetheless can have a dramatic (but unattributable) effect on the future of the world’s weather.

    Aside from the absence of chaos, it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back. The final straw alone would have had a negligible effect on the poor camel, yet without it the camel would have been intact. One could hardly attribute the demise of the camel to the final straw (or for that matter to the first straw), but it contributed to the conditions leading to the demise of the proverbial, poor camel. Similarly, the wing flap is not *responsible* for the hurricane, but it may be *necessary* for it. And quantum effects have nothing to do with it. It’s a macroscopic effect in chaotic systems – nothing to do with the world of atoms as such.

    • And quantum effects have nothing to do with it. It’s a macroscopic effect in chaotic systems – nothing to do with the world of atoms as such.

      Yes and no. I believe the quantum world provides the possibility for the cascade failure to happen in the first place; it’s what happens at the tipping point at the smallest scales that subsequently propagates through the macro-observable region.

    • David, my post was largely (oh OK, totally!) flippant and frivolous, and made more for light hearted, humorous banter. Sorry to have caused any “controversy” with my layman’s profligacy, I cannot promise it won’t happen again!

      • Tom Liles says:

        Well I’m going to hold you to that Ian 😀

        No, but David, I think we were talking about other people saying a butterfly flaps its wings at A, hurricane at B, weren’t we? And thanks—you make sense and educate those of us that didn’t know [me for one] about the actual purposes of the model we call The Butterfly Effect.

        And still, does it take into account things like friction? Energy getting converted from mechanical motion to sound, etc? Plenty of ways for the effect to peter out, plus the more complex view that Ian mentioned—confounding factors, like other butterflies. I’m not poo-pooing The Butterfly Effect as you represent it David. Just commenting that I think it’s penultimate, at very best; at worst, it seems vulnerable to physical and philosophical arguments. Most of all philosophical?

        The deterministic premises and attitude toward cause and effect smuggled in in The Butterfly Effect should be obvious. Highly deterministic [for a model that’s about chaos! See what I mean about opposites Ming?] Billiard balls versus foamy unpredictability and wave functions—something happens somewhere to transition between the two. What do I know [I always say this, it’s actually a reference to one of my heroes Montaigne, and his motto: que sais je?], so what do I know, but it seems to me this bridge is observation. Human or non [this must be mostly “non,” knowing the composition of the universe!].

        Ming might write us that Quantum Mechanical treatment on photos one day [please don’t rush it Ming. Seriously. I’m prepared to wait years for it] but I think, in a way, we photographers are reenacting this when we take pictures. Confirming existences. Collapsing wave-functions. Actualizing [into a non-actual form!].

        I can’t find a neat way to tie a butterfly wing shaped ribbon on this.

        • Tom: “No, but David, I think we were talking about other people saying a butterfly flaps its wings at A, hurricane at B, weren’t we?”

          I know I was…weren’t you? I thought you were, which was why I was. If you weren’t then sorry, my bad..

          • Tom Liles says:

            Wasn’t I? Yes, I was. Where were we? Well I was working. Wasn’t I. Well not now. But will be shortly. Again. As I was.

            All: as you were.

        • I’m working on it. But it’s perhaps even hard to write than the outstanding images and defining style posts.

          • Tom Liles says:

            Oh, I’m sure. Take your time on it Ming; but don’t stress or over pamper it. You’re a writer too so you know; but it’s better to get a 90%er out than sit on one waiting for the day it’s at 100. Long long wait there. And just to contradict my self, a line I like from a book about S. Kubrik:

            For him, every single detail was extremely important and he was ready to give himself up totally to his goal — which was the movie — for you have to live with your work to the end of your life

            Great man.

            But while you mention those articles: there are two pieces that are canon, in my view. Must reads. I’d offer the metering articles too. And Shooting for Yourself, Deconstructing Light and the white balance article, Chasing Perfect Color. All canon in my opinion. With Photographer As Philosopher part one — and its comments — in waiting for canon.

            There are so many gems here, in places I’m sure many visitors wouldn’t give a second look—the Camerapedia is without question one of my most used resources. On Assignment, ditto. Recently the reader pool.

            And [what visitors do come for and give a second look to]: the reviews. The reviews. Crikey, where do we begin? I’m not sure I could continue life without them now… The entire artifice of Philosophy & Opinion, Camerapedia, On Assignment, the reviews, The Flickr, the endless stream of AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHY, ok, just put it all in a bag and ring the till and tell me how much—I want it all. Ah? Sorry? It’s free!?

            Wait, what?


            • Actually, I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I can actually afford to sit and wait for the 100%…it’s not commercial work; the content of this site is pretty much entirely for me. If I’m not happy with the output, it doesn’t go on the site.

              Canon?! AARGH! (just kidding).

              620 articles, 1.3 million words and counting. I am currently fleshing out articles for late August/early September and planning the H2 editorial schedule. To anybody who has no idea what it takes to run a site like this, perhaps that will give you a good idea…

  9. Not mentioned was, so far, the influence of color vision, like deficiencies: e.g. red-green deficiency – a genetic anomaly present in about 10 percent of males.
    Maybe that is why b/w pictures are very popular??

    Synesthesia in a photographer would be also an interesting subject.
    This is a condition of people who attach colours to sound: specific words have differnt colors.
    Wikipedia def: It is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.

  10. Concise would be nice.

  11. fishingwithflies says:

    Hi Ming, My understanding of your essay is a bit limited. But let me share with you a simple example it made me think of. I recently bought a third party grip (by Jim Buchanan) for my NEX 6. It had two significant results I did not expect: (1) it makes it the most comfortable camera I have ever held merely by adding enough “height” to the grip area so I could use my pinky finger to help hold the camera, especially so because the grip circumference for the pinky finger is slightly larger than that provided by the camera for the first four fingers… all because Buchanan needed to build it so you could still access the battery. Because of this “ergonomic” or “haptic” I now prefer the camera over my EM5 even though on paper the EM5 (IMHO) has far more features that I like. I find it amazing that the “feel” of the NEX has now trumped the better features of the EM5! Image quality difference? I have no idea. They are both far better than good enough. And (2) the built in dovetail in the Buchanan grip allows easy easy easy use of a arca-swiss style tripod. I’ve always hated tripods and almost never used them. I thought that was part of my style. But now, using a tripod is fun! The part that makes me think about this grip, is that this one accessory has blown me away by taking me to a place I had no expectation of going.

    To me, this is a specific example of perhaps a very small aspect of what your are talking about. That is, that something small and seemingly insignificant can create a big change in how you view things.

    • Indeed. Now I’m going to ask if you’ve tried the E-M5 grip 🙂

      • fishingwithflies says:

        Yes. The EM5 grip doesn’t do much for me, compared with what the Jim Buchanan grip does on the NEX. The EM5 is just slightly smaller in feel than the NEX. Partly this is because the NEX grip seems more substantial in my hand. Sony does this in part because the lens mount is more off-center, leaving more room for the grip. The NEX also feels bigger partly because of more available real estate for buttons on the back compared to the EM5. Just by 2 cents worth.

        With regard to the EM5 I seem to prefer the grip by RRS when compared with the horizontal piece made by Oly. I greatly dislike having to remove the Oly landscape grip for access the battery whereas there is a hole in the RRS grip. With regard to the vertical Oly grip, I thought I’d love it but its just a bit too small for me. It’s fine when held vertically, but when shooting horizontally with the full grip the first (that is the joint in the ball of the hand) joint of the pinky finger rests unfortunately and exactly on the vertical grip shutter button. That’s fine with kit lenses that are light, but add a flash and/or heavy reg 43 lens (I use the 14-54 and others) and the extra leverage created by the weight causes my hand to press the shutter button. This in turn freezes focus to the point where I reinsert the battery to reboot the camera. It took a while to figure out what was going on… I thought it was the reg43 lenses being not completely compatible because it was only happening with the 14-54 (15 ounces in weight) and the 70-300 (21 ounces in weight). Once I figured it out, it still is hard to keep it from happening. So… I think I will sell the Oly grip “used” on Ebay and keep the RRS grip.

        • Makes sense, and agreed on the Oly grip – it really is meant to be used with the bottom piece, which negates the battery replacement problem. But I find that makes a small camera too big, and I just use the grip extension piece; this means having to dismount it all the time, and feeling slightly cheated by how much I had to pay for something the camera really needs to have built in. Oh well…we can only hope that will improve with the replacement camera. In any case – with the Oly grip, you can turn off the vertical button and other controls with the little switch on the back…

          • fishingwithflies says:

            Hmmm. Thanks for that last “throw in” sentence. Of course. But I hadn’t actually thought about that. And since I haven’t sold the grip yet, I’ll check it out when I get home tonight from work!! Thanks. Peter

            • No worries. I only found it because I had the same problem when holding the camera in certain orientations…and I don’t even have large hands.

  12. Paul Stokes says:

    A comment my wife made that she is glad she is going into using a computer now as it is so much simpler to use and do things (Apple iMac 27). Surely this is true also for most photography and perhaps why so many people take photographs today. At one time photographers struggled with their equipment to take and then produce a stunning image; today it is seems possible to achieve that result without so much uncertainty. Of course this does depend on what you seek to achieve in the first place and that’s why it is the image before the equipment, the vision before its manifestation. Having just watched two documentaries on Australian photographer Murray Fredrickson (Salt and Nothing on Earth), the struggle is still possible and indeed necessary to capture his particular vision.
    Passive-absorption or active
    Creative development is really about both.
    Where do we begin? Undoubtedly, by being impressed or moved emotionally by something; perhaps the beauty of a particular summer or the ugliness of poverty and despair. Some people will begin with drawing or painting while others will find that too slow and look for another means of capturing what they see. It will also depend on what you have access to. Today cameras of one kind or another are everywhere and accessible to a much larger and growing portion of the population.
    Growing up I had little awareness of photography as almost all of the graphic presentation was drawn or painted. Photography was quite limited and of very poor quality. This gradually changed with exposure to magazines like Life or Paris Match in school French classes. Still it was only much later that I had any real exposure to people like Adams or Weston. If it wasn’t in the library, I didn’t see it. No Internet then. We’d only just make it to television. Cameras were too expensive for young folk to use. So much of my creative development was passive absorption. Sure I could draw quite well but watercolours are still a nightmare or a good laugh depending. I’m sure this sent me on a path to landscapes and nature, which were much easier to frame and deal with than people and events. Surprisingly, I actually did quite a lot of good portrait work off the back of the paintings I had been exposed to and still see them more as a source of inspiration than other photographers. Though, passive-absorption prevents me from avoiding the influence of others. I do think the more I was/am exposed to other ideas and influences of others, the more able to take advantages of photographic opportunities I am. Like my writing and your writing my photography grows from the sum total of my experiences and all those little unpredictable elements like a previously unconsidered connection or beautiful light on a spring morning.
    Actively I try to learn how people do things as long as it is something I can do or if I am really truthful want to do and this is a deliberate process. It may result in one of those light bulb moments but not so often. I’m appreciative of the work of many but that does not mean I will actively pursue their style or subject matter but I may incorporate aspects of it or use it in a completely different direction. As you said about Winogrand [and I hope I have this right] while you admire what he photographed, the way he photographed that material is not your way. So it is for many of us, and for a variety of reasons. I believe my active learning therefore has more to do with the how of photography. This may mean finding the kit that allows me the freedom to take a different direction [OM-D over D800E] because I can now walk all day or a new way of interpreting what I see and what my final product is. I am brand agnostic so equipment has to enable me to do something different within what I can physically manage.
    We, and our output be it written or photographic, are the sum of our experiences to date, subject to certain filters specific to each of us.

    • The trouble is, though there’s more access to content and potential sources of inspiration, there seems to be less and less creation going on – either just outright consumption (we live in an instant-gratification society after all) or at best, copying. Perhaps it’s a consequence of overload?

      • Paul Stokes says:

        I think this may well be the case. Blame the Internet I suppose for everything being available to everyone all the time or perhaps it is a consequence of 24 hr journalism which feeds a seemingly insatiable appetite for the new. Paparazzi photographs of Hollywood Z listers rather than beautiful portraits of the A listers. Is it because the paparazzi snaps are ‘real’ as opposed to constructs where everything is managed? The aim does not appear to be to create a considered composition. Why? Perhaps there is no real audience for such a photograph. It has become the work of galleries or high priced limited edition books [of which I do have a few only, as I can’t afford them and that new lens]. The audience for HCB has gone.

        Most of the great painters worked for the rich and powerful and there were not many of either. This changed and painting and art slowly became the domain of all and even of animals. So it appears to be now with photography. Perhaps when it stops becoming demanding and difficult ‘people’s’ views of its value changes. Perhaps it simply becomes another means of being ‘famous’.

        There are great photographers working today, yourself included, but I wonder how many people would recognize their names. Perhaps it is a touch of the sic transit Gloria mundi. Still I’ll stick with the Monty Python ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and be patient and believe that many young people will graduate from their iPhone to something else. They like us will get sick of the crap and look for something more.

        • Once again, it’s down to human psychology: we get used to things and so require bigger and bigger hits to have the same effect. This is true regardless of whether it’s chocolate or handbags or cameras or paparazzi images. There is no aim to composition at all, it’s just to have a record – preferably with some sort of wardrobe malfunction. Why? Because we perversely curious humans crave it; because tabloids pay because they can sell more tabloids. It’s a vicious circle.

          On second thoughts, it’s much simpler than that: it’s FAR easier to consume than create. It takes possibly hours of setup or waiting to make an image; seconds to view it. Hours of prep time in the kitchen, gone in a mouthful. Etc. We – as a society – consume far faster than we can create. Some of us try to keep up, but the reality is that eventually, it will all come to a grinding halt. It’s anybody’s guess what happens then – after all, we can only have so many iphones and cameras and cars before – guess what – we get bored of all that, too. Then what? In my mind, the only solution is to create. There are no limits, boundaries or ends there – perhaps that’s why I’m a photographer…

          • Paul Stokes says:

            I completely agree Ming. As a person reaches that point of frustration or boredom they will step away into something else that has more meaning to them perhaps based on their life and experiences before the rush or perhaps as a result of that life changing experience. Is it possible to develop some sort of personal vision as the basis for individual development as a writer or photographer today in any other way? Perhaps we should start a slow photography movement?

      • Hi Ming. I think it is confirmation bias. Digital cameras gave the ability to “chimp” what one just saw in the viewfinder (or on the screen). Cameras of today give positive reinforcement of the choices of when to press that shutter button. It takes more to be a photographer than having a working index finger, yet the camera companies advertising tries to convince people otherwise.

        • I should edit that comment a bit. That positive reinforcement from chimping is fake and false, though that may not have come through in the first comment. Almost every good pro I know turns off the instant replay, though a few would like to see just the histogram.

      • Agreed Ming, part of me detests the “social media” paradigm where people use the efforts of others as a way of “scoring points” as if life (or in this case, how you wish others to perceive your life) was some competition. I can however understand the value of it as a way of reaching out to fellow humans, as an “ice breaker”, and a means to broaden our horizons. What really gets my goat is people who bring nothing of themselves to the table, but try and play the “points scoring game” against those that do – the worst kind of “consumer” in this forum. It’s like someone inviting themselves to dinner on the basis of the door mat outside your house that says “Welcome”, eating you out of house-and-home, leaving an ungodly mess in your lavatory, before standing up, announcing what a thoroughly terrible host you have been, and leaving. Oh, and then telling their friends to come by and see for themselves how awful you are.

        My therapist and I are working through my issues, just so you know…

        • gah…I am leaving comments in very confusing places! This was meant to be in response to Ming’s observations about consumption versus creation a few replies up!

        • Actually, that sounds a lot like certain camera forums…and certain visitors I’ve had here. For the most part, it’s been thoroughly civilized though. 🙂

  13. I’m going to comment on this topic plus something you mentioned in the comments to your X-Vario review (which I really enjoyed). Just right off the top let me say that I have other equipment but I’m shooting an X-E1 most of the time now and and X20 and new XF1 when I need a compact. It distresses me a bit when I see a camera written of as soulless or some similarly subjective term from someone whose opinion I respect a great deal. It’s not just this brand but this is the one I’m most familiar with.

    You’re well aware that ones perception of their equipment can have a large impact on their shooting. For some if you’re told you have a mediocre camera you may every we’ll settle for mediocre results. A camera described as a Honda Civic doesn’t sound like anything you’d expect much from. It simply causes discontent with what we have and unnecessary desire for something we probably don’t need.

    After shooting Rolleis and an OM2 for years and then settling into Canon DSLRs for the last 12-13 the X-E1 is the first camera I’ve owned since my films days that made me want to go out and actively look for images. I finally had another camera that allowed me to hold the body in my right hand and adjust shutter and cradle the lens in my left hand and adjust aperture. I know people compare the Fujis to rangefinders but I don’t get that. To me it was closer to my old OM2. Effortlessly changing shutter and aperture while holding the camera the way I had for most of my film days. This made me want to shoot… every chance I got .

    So for me going from a 1D to the X-E1 was more akin to going from a big Porsche Cayenne with an automatic transmission to a nimble little Mini Cooper with a standard. Calling a camera like this a Civic–or any other nice handling camera capable of excellent images is a disservice and an excuse for owners to either settle for weak photos or dump their gear and go for a Leica. And having had some experience in that area I have to say that despite their excellent lenses and impressive build quality, a rangefinder is not a great solution for many, many people who may be craving one. I shot rangefinders for years and thought the heavens had been opened with my first SLR and then later with autofocus.

    I have no problems at all reading about the X-E1 getting hammered for slow focus. (guilty), or an EVF than can be laggy (guilty again) and the build quality falls far short of the Leica M’s (go figure). It’s not a perfect camera but I think Fuji has found something fairly unique that has renewed the enthusiasm for a lot of long-time photographers like myself. This isn’t something a Civic would do.

    I’ve been through a lot of other cameras that other people really enjoy–the GF1/30mm pancake, an LX7, a GX1, and the RX100. None of which I found to be an enjoyable camera but each of which allows me to understand why they’re quite popular. We all look for different things.

    Thanks for letting me express my views! I really do enjoy your writing and images and I love the Speedy photo even thought I’m more of a Planet Ocean kind of guy.



    • Tom Liles says:

      Jerry, I was at least a third of that conversation and should shoulder some responsibility: let me apologize here and now and in public. I’m a little ashamed of myself [a rarity].

      You’re right. Thanks for standing up and saying it.

      Can I muddy the water a little? On the topic of “soul”: that is a difficult one to hold issue on, perhaps. It’s a purely subjective quality, therefore judgement, no? Though I COMPLETELY get your point: making an opinion public, when you are idolized by quite a few, can be a dangerous thing. But I wouldn’t want Ming to censor himself; and I wouldn’t want things to be taken quite so seriously below the line.

      Would MT write that above the line? I doubt it. Perhaps therein lies a clue…

      • I don’t pull punches, never have (probably what didn’t make me any friends in corporate) and never will. Just so you know.

        • Tom Liles says:

          Yeah, I was at fault because I started out championing the Fuji system [on objective grounds] but ended up passively calling them Ladas. I guess it was just out of not wanting to lay a glove on David. If I’m brutally honest, what I should have been doing was asking why David, so keen to say he wasn’t interested a badge, couldn’t help himself but talk about Leicas and lenses that cost the earth. I’m not one to talk, though, so I didn’t.

          There’s good hypocrisy and bad hypocrisy and that was bad. I hold my hand up.

          [and wipe the slate clean ready for another batch of balls ups!]

          • Hey Guys, I don’t expect anyone to pull punches. I want to know what the issues are with any platform and the X series definitely have their share. Sometimes I just chafe a bit at the purely subjective stuff.

            Tom, not problem at all. I think we all do it to some extent–I’m as guilty as anyone but this time it just hit close the home 🙂 How’s that for hypocrisy? I just know that the despite the less than Leica-like build quality and balance, the layout and controls of some of the Fujis, plus the IQ, have really sparked the enthusiasm of a lot of long-time photographers. Your points about above and below the line are excellent–something I definitely need to remember. Sorry if I went off there.

            Ming, I’m not asking you to tone anything down or say anything you don’t truly believe–that’s what makes your writing so interesting to read. Yet at the same time I hate to see photographers–especially newer ones–feeling like they need a level of gear that they really don’t and one that they probably can’t afford. I think that’s what happens to some when someone very knowledgable tells them their gear is the equivalent of a boring compact sedan. I don’t even like rangefinders yet I want a Leica M every time I pick one up. Fortunately they haven’t made an autofocus camera that appeals to me yet.

            If you’re a Leica shooter you already know where the aperture ring belongs but if you’ve spent years in the wilderness then the first time you pick up an X-Pro1 or X-E1 and a prime–a setup more of us can afford–and you feel that aperture ring when you cradle the lens and that shutter speed dial on top, it’s like coming home again. I don’t think you can understand it unless you did come from the film days and then spent years spinning dials on the back of a DSLR. It’s pretty awesome.

            When I got my first 1D years ago I spent way too much time sitting at my desk firing off that amazing 8fps. Now I sit at my desk and a couple times a day I pick up the X-E1 and frame a shot, turn that aperture ring and set the shutter speed. Then I put the camera down and get back to work. If nothing else it’s a lot easier on my camera. 🙂

            I’ve taken more photos in the few months I’ve had the X-E1 than I have in the past year or more with my 1D. For the past few years I’d watch for photos all the time and take them when I saw them. Lately I grab the X-E1 and go out looking for them. So Ming, you were asking about creativity and the reasons we shoot. This has been a big one for me.

            Take care!


            • Ming, I’m not asking you to tone anything down or say anything you don’t truly believe–that’s what makes your writing so interesting to read. Yet at the same time I hate to see photographers–especially newer ones–feeling like they need a level of gear that they really don’t and one that they probably can’t afford. I think that’s what happens to some when someone very knowledgable tells them their gear is the equivalent of a boring compact sedan. I don’t even like rangefinders yet I want a Leica M every time I pick one up. Fortunately they haven’t made an autofocus camera that appeals to me yet.

              I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few writers who’s always said that your gear matters far less than your education and skill…and I put my money where my mouth is by producing images that stand are are medium independent – be it with an iPhone or medium format Hasselblad. This is NOT to say however that we all have preferences in equipment, and those preferences definitely influence the output…or at very least, our productivity.

              • Yes, you’re absolutely right. I let a single comment get to me there. I’ve already expressed how much I enjoyed your XF1 review (enough to buy one) because you’re one of the few photographers whose work I respect that will really give a lower end camera a fair shake and shoot some very nice images with it at the same time. You should us what it can do and then give us the list of issues (fairly lengthy in the case of the XF1 🙂 ) So yeah, I was out of line. I apologize.

                It’s been a long time since I felt this attached to a camera–the X-E1. I’ve had some great gear, including Canons, Olympus, Panasonic/Lumix in many different formats, but this is the first one that brought me back to my OM2/Rollei days of just itching to get out and take photos.

                I know for a lot of people IQ is the only thing and there are some amazing cameras out there but I just don’t connect. The RX1 doesn’t appeal to me, I sold my RX100 for the same reason. The NEX series felt the same–technically advanced but no emotional response. I liked my GF1 with the 20mm f1.7 but never found another lens I was happy with on that body. My long list of Canon DSLRs have all performed extremely well but in a clinical sort of way.

                So yes, the EVF could be larger and faster, the autofocus could use a big boost, and the build quality could stand a bit of help as well (although I honestly like the feel of the X-E1 with the Fuji external grip), but this slightly flawed camera has really ignited that old feeling I had walking around the streets of Bangkok with the OM2 and 50mm lens.


                • I’ll review a camera when it makes sense/ is of personal interest – whether it’s high end or low end. IQ isn’t the only thing, otherwise I’d only ever shoot with the CFV-39 or D800E at base ISO, and this article wouldn’t exist 🙂

                  • Thanks for the reminder! I’d read that blog post just before I stumbled upon the X-E1. I had sold my little X10 to a friend and had started looking and reading blogs again while searching for another camera–I was still shooting my DSLR most of the time at that point. Great writing–both parts one and two.

                    BTW, if I had the disposable income just the footage of the hand fitting of the leather covering from “The Making of the Leica M9-P Hermes Edition” video would be enough to make me run out and buy one. Of course I wouldn’t be able to find one even if I had the money. 🙂 What a beautifully filmed video as well as a stunning camera.


                    • Actually, there’s one at the Leica Store in Starhill, Kuala Lumpur…as for the leather, yes, it feels as good as it looks. But I’m sure it’ll be pretty quickly destroyed between tropical humidity and sweat…

                      Interestingly, I was told that there remain quite a number of units unsold. I’d personally go for the MP Hermes over the M9-P, simply because there are no electronics to eventually become unrepairable…

    • Not a problem. Everything – gear included – in the world of photography is subjective. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of high end cameras I don’t like – the Hasselblad H4D series, for instance – and pedestrian ones I do (Olympus Pen Mini). Some speak to you, some don’t – this is why we have choices. And undoubtedly, what we shoot affects whether we shoot at all – which in turn influences our creative development through the simple effect of facilitation.

  14. Tom Liles says:

    Hi Ming, Hi all,

    The Butterfly Effect, not the film with Ashton Kutcher [surprisingly good; but still not good], the thing about a butterfly flaps its wings in A and we get gale force winds in B has never made sense to me. You don’t get something for nothing. No free lunches. Ever. We talked in private, Ming, about the second law of Thermodynamics, well here it is again—a stone in the shoe of would be wonderers. And it is a wonderful universe that the people who can make the above connection live in. Truly. I hear someone reel off the Butterfly Effect spiel [about the hurricanes] and just think of friction, loss of momentum –> things falling to a halt. The existence of the sun and moon and all the external forces that actually cause weather, not butterflies. The inexorable march toward the heat death of the universe. There’re no free lunches. I just can’t force myself to make believe and entertain the thought—the smug voice in the back of my mind just keeps repeating “but that can’t happen, but that can’t happen..” Maybe this is just my dogma.

    The MT Butterfly
    Hmm. Perhaps receptive and conductive are not the analogues of active and passive. I’d say you wanted to reach for something like receptive and transmitive; each to his own balance of both [which also changes in time]. You’ve already reached the surmise that our output represents an amalgam of both: things we saw [heard, tasted, etc, etc], things we thought up [inspiration]. A mix of the active and passive. But things we thought up –> inspiration has to have come from somewhere? This is the twilight zone you’re looking for, I think.
    I would point to religious writings on this as the better guide. The ultimate guide may even be the Gnostics, who combined the religious and the psychological [anthropological] in their treatments. But leaving the Gnostics alone for the moment [they are too esoteric a reference, perhaps] and sticking with religious thought—I think there’s a lot of mileage waiting there for you. Revelation, divine inspiration, teleology. These are the same things under different rubrics. And legions of pious writers have already done all the legwork for us. I haven’t even put a dent in the bounty to be had from them, but I’m aware of its existence and intend to plunder it.

    But your question: I don’t have a thought out thought on this. Certainly not a unified position; but hopefully everyone knows by now, I don’t think much of unifying positions if by that we mean being one sidedly singular.

    All I can say is, I’m going to try a film camera over my paternity leave this month [big day is the 12th July!]. A lot of the great guys we have on here have convinced me directly, or indirectly [me reading other’s thoughts/opinions not addressed to me], to try. But many people only talk B&W [perhaps because you can self-develop] when they talk contemporary film. I’m not really talking about this site in particular anymore now… of course I’ve been all over the place and researched this—even though a film camera body will be a very modest purchase indeed, it’s still a purchase; and though I might sound like Mr GAS most of the time, I’m not a man of great means and in keeping with the second law and no free lunches, the money has to come from somewhere: usually my personal living costs plus personal savings historical. So of course I THOROUGHLY research anything I buy. And then on complete whim buy the thing sitting next to it in the shop.
    No, but I’ve researched film cameras and that means reading here there and everywhere all over the web. 90% of the content is underground, street style shooting, DIY processing and scanning. I.e., B&W. Makes sense. But I realized sometime around yesterday, this is not what I want to do. Not a fully conscious decision either. It bubbled to the top from something I just feel down in my bones:

    I’m going to shoot color film. And only color film.

    This is my step change. Where did it come from? I think if I went into MT / Li Mu Bai meditation mode and really investigated myself, I’d get an answer. But.

    Now I’ve said “but,” you know what comes next:

    I don’t want to know.
    [And don’t want to know if I can know]

    I don’t care? Maybe that’s it.

    I salute MT for wanting to know though. This is a HUGE part of why I rate him. Just like the Li Mu Bai archetype above, what Ming does is a form of mediation, just not orthodox or on the nose—via photography. What MT does is like meditation because it’s clearly not just conscious or unconscious, but both. And more.
    [And an interesting language to do it in.]

    I think it’s the same case with photography: things go in circles.

    I think they go in spirals, and it’s just that the uncritical mind looks at it from plan view—and so the scheme looks like circles. To use a recent topical example from the blog, the snap of a rank beginner may actually look just like a Gary Winogrand shot [it’s not impossible to imagine it happening]. But we’d all feel a difference, wouldn’t we? [Would we? This is testy territory now]. The two shots, looked at as positions on a circle [plan view] would appear to be the same point in space; but shifting viewpoints and seeing the arrangement as a spiral, we see GW was on a higher plane [or we think/hope/believe/know he was].
    What put GW ahead of the happy snapper? GW did. Not luck. Not equipment [though I’d disagree]. GW. And now, perhaps, we see what really drives creative development: the driver.

    That doesn’t simply mean creative development is then necessarily wholly active.

    I’m convinced that humans are inescapably teleological [as is the universe itself]. If it is built in to us and the system: then even without actively trying, we would still be contributing to a teleological end. Taking part in one. Moving forward whether we moved backwards or stood still and did nothing. So our innate drive “to develop”… is that then active or passive? How much of either?
    [I’m starting to think this framework is mistaken: it’s inevitable, that’s what it is. And that’s all.]

    I refer back to my personal answer and add that the topic is philosophic. And if there’s one thing we know:

    Philosophy doesn’t do answers; it does questions.

    • Preamble: No, that’s not what I meant at all. I was thinking more in the context of small influences having a big effect on one’s art/ philosophy etc.

      Congratulations in advance – I’d probably not fumble with film while trying to get the first images of your newborn, though. Stick to the D3.

      What’s wrong with color film? I wanted very badly to shoot medium format and color. But film simply wasn’t tenable, so I bought a digital back instead 😛

      “the snap of a rank beginner may actually look just like a Gary Winogrand shot [it’s not impossible to imagine it happening]. But we’d all feel a difference, wouldn’t we? [Would we? This is testy territory now]” I don’t know about this. If we were shown a ‘famous image’ without context and without knowing it was supposed to be famous, would we still hold it in the same esteem? I’m not sure, in a lot of cases.

      Asking the right questions gets us (hopefully) to the right answers. Or at least answers that are useful to us.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Crikey, no it’s iPhone all the way with baby shots Ming! Tool for the job and all that. Plus it would be the creepiest thing in the world to be all taking light readings and inquisitively walking around the scene, staring down the subject intently, camera in hand, slowing leaning in, taking aim, making focus, engage, execute shutter –> pull camera away from face and wind film on in a slaking zip “zzzzzzrrak.” Game face on all the way. As much as I love the D3, that’s not even close to being on my mind for the big day either!

        No since I’ll have a few weeks off; with some time to myself early evening [kids sleep at 6] I thought it’d be a good chance to go for an evening stroll and take a few pics. I won’t have time for PP. And I’m sure I’ll be wound real tight with the stress of looking after my two kids while my wife takes care of the newbie. So the relaxing SLOW, thoughtful pace of the film camera appeals. Stroll in the park, dying embers of evening light, film camera, my thoughts, etc.
        [I know those light conditions aren’t optimal, but it really is the savoring of the shooting style I’m after right here. Seriously trying to get something in color and on film — as is the grand scheme — can start once I’m back to work. The segue for paternity would also work as a good primer on using a film camera and familiarizing myself with the machine. Though I’ve used a few cameras now I’m at the “don’t need the instruction book; but where’s my cheese?” stage with most cameras…]

        Or at least answers that are useful to us.

        Well said. I’ve always loved a line by Bruce Lee, of all people, [a philosophy student] I think it was in his Tao of Jeet Kun Do [don’t ask!]. He said: the question is the answer.

        For mathematical problems [tautologies] this is spot on. And for everything else, a pretty decent guide. If you’ve framed it correctly, the answer(s) often follow. When they don’t, best place to start trouble shooting is the question.

        Anyway, in usual fashion I’ve drifted hopelessly. Another week and you won’t have to suffer it 🙂

        • Not really. I think my wife would expect it, and so would the hospital (she works there, they’re one of my clients)…hell, she’d probably tell me to get some stock since it’s not so easy to get access to live birth and model releases!

          Well, if you’ve asked the question…you must surely have some idea of where/how to start searching for the answer.

          • Tom Liles says:

            No, seriously though Ming: it will be interesting to hear [if you felt like sharing it at the time] your feelings on taking your own kids [should you and your wife choose to have some, and let’s not touch on it anymore; I always feel like it’s a bit private. Past the line. In my case I don’t mind talking about my kids, but this kind of thing shouldn’t be taken as read. I’m sure].

            It would be interesting, too, to hear from our community, how they feel.

            I started out on this hobby for the sole reason of taking my son and daughter [and my wife when she’d let me!]. Just wanted to record my family with a modicum of quality.

            Guess what I take the LEAST and the WORST and just generally can’t make a success of [on my low, low standards].

            I’m convinced what you say you’re after is often the last thing you really are. Depends on the person, depends on the context. But there is truthiness there.

            • Tom Liles says:

              And I forgot my main point:

              Literally being in love with your subject can ruin any chance of taking a good* picture of it.

              * as this is art, assume by good I mean true

              • I completely disagree here: knowing your subject inside out (as a consequence of love or infatuation) makes you if anything more able to capture its best angle.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Well, if it’s knowing your subject, naturally the more you know the better the work. It’s the exactly the same in copywriting. I agree with you there, but I think you’ve been very slippery and done the politician’s switcheroo.

                  Put blankly: the strongest image you’ve ever made [strongest to other people and you, Ming] was it an object or a person?

                  1) If it was an object, I rest my case.
                  [of course it’s possible to love objects. This love is nothing next to the love we feel for people: parents, kin, spouses, children, etc. Or is it? Thinking again, I might well be in error here.]

                  2) If it was a person, was it the person you love most in this World?

                  I think both answers wold be “no.” I’ve been slippery there and suddenly started talking about the strongest, most well received, numero uno, hands down best; this is just to take my premises to their most contrasty to illustrate the point.

                  Now can I mention some nuance:

                  – Note the “can” and not “will” [not a 100% rule; but I’m not chickening out—I think it’s mostly true]
                  – I arbitrarily equated good with true. I think it’s reasonable to posit that a degree of objective remove is necessary to poke at anything true. There is something to stop you doing that to people you love: love.
                  – If I search my memory for world historical, great artworks [not a lot in there, I’ll grant you!] I notice the ones which artists have tackled a/the person the they love, are greatly outnumbered by works of objects, people one step removed, or plain abstraction. Only religious devotional art stands against me, I think. [But I’d argue that the pious love of God isn’t the same as romantic or filial love]

                  Interesting, though. And of course Ming, it goes without saying, respect for your thoughts and point of view should be taken as given. To tie my first line back in with my main point… Maybe being close is good, knowing your subject, good; the closer you get and the more you know makes for better and better images, until you cross a threshold — love — at and past which your eye loses all capability for the objective or analytic—the image becomes one-sided, skewed, un-nuanced, not as strong.

                  • Put blankly: the strongest image you’ve ever made [strongest to other people and you, Ming] was it an object or a person?

                    That’s a very, very good question; I honestly have no idea. I think it was an abstracted person (face not visible) in the context of something much greater. Where does this stand?

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Sorry for ‘both answers should be “no.”‘

                    That was obviously a stupid mistake.
                    [my speciality!]

            • I would want to do it simply to document something that will almost certainly only happen once or at most twice; I really don’t know how she’d feel about it. In all seriousness, most of the time the hospital doesn’t allow it in case there’s a record of something that (hopefully not) goes wrong and they get into hot soup legally.

              I’m convinced what you say you’re after is often the last thing you really are. Depends on the person, depends on the context. But there is truthiness there. How so?

              • Tom Liles says:

                Ah, just the trend of psychological opposites. The Mike Tyson story, the lecturer introducing his lecture, I mentioned these on pervious threads [as with most of my postings: perhaps better left forgotten].

                People often consciously formulate what’s not in their unconscious [desires]; sometimes even the opposite. As with everything, actions speak louder than words and are the only reliable witness for a person’s true feelings on a subject.

                I said, to myself and others, I took up photography to learn how to take good/quality pictures of my family. If I collate all my images thus far, pictures of my family are probably less than 5%.

                This said, I’ve been revisiting your “journey as a photographer” themed pieces—and a quote of T.S Eliot’s that Gordon dropped have been playing on my mind. Maybe when I’m competent and in control, closer to an end than a beginning, I’ll suddenly start taking nothing but my family. Rediscovering the very same place I started out from.

                Enjoying the ride!

                And I’m late for work—RUN

        • First, congratulations on your upcoming arrival Tom!

          Second, that film thing. I didn’t mention it before, but I shot off my first couple rolls of film this past week, and I blame it solely (kinda) on Ming’s medium format street photography article. First film in almost a decade for me, and first time shooting MF ever: borrowed Fuji GW690 producing 8 exposures of 6×9 frames per 120 roll. 2 each of Acros 100 and Velvia 50 (for nostalgia’s sake) after sacrificing a roll of Acros to the film gods. The camera is totally manual with no metering, so I had an iPhone app that I’d pull out to get a reading off the highlights in the scene once, and then I’d eyeball and adjust for each shot. I actually did not get all white or all black frames, so I think that counts as some sort of success!

          The whole eyeballing exposure thing is an interesting exercise as it forced me to look for really strong lighting contrast so that I knew something would show up on the film. No nuance here for me.

          • Heh. Guilty as charged…

          • Tom Liles says:

            Thanks Andre!

            Oh for sure, Ming’s film diaries have done the lion’s share of the damage! Not the imagery so much, I couldn’t hope to recreate that — though its hard for me to look at an MT image and not be affected — no, it was something in the words: Ming talking about how taking pictures with film cameras is just a qualitatively different experience. Who wouldn’t want to try after hearing that?
            [Being into cameras]

            I was thinking about it last night while sat in a completely ridiculous meeting that didn’t finish until gone midnight: maybe it’s color and film because that’s the imagery of my youth. Researching Nikon film cameras I refound the Malaysian site, that TREASURE TROVE of information, seriously good—“mir.” I don’t know if Ming knows these guys or contributes, or is actually one of the guys! But whoever runs that site deserves a Nobel.
            [It’s a Pullitzer for you Ming; but you can have the Nobel if you’d prefer 🙂 ]

            Here’s a link to that page, and look at the small photo of the guy fixing a camera. This just leaps of the screen at me. The color grading/tonality. It does something to me and I don’t think the fact that my early years and youth were saturated with magazines full of pictures and advertising with this look is inconsequential.

            • maybe it’s color and film because that’s the imagery of my youth. YES: I touched upon this in an earlier article; it’s the same reason our – mine, at least – impressions of various historical eras are colored by the representative media of the time, be it film or regular artwork.

              I know the MIR guy tangentially, but not personally. And no, I don’t contribute to the site – it’s enough work as it is keeping mine growing 🙂

              • Tom Liles says:

                Sorry Ming! Was typing that on the iPhone during commute to a meeting with my colleague talking to me along the way and posted mid-comment! My bad. Full fat comment complete with triple XXX rated links in the ether.

                Sorry Ming, sorry Andre!

          • Tom Liles says:

            Thanks Andre!

            Oh for sure, Ming’s film diaries have done the lion’s share of the damage! Not the imagery so much, I couldn’t hope to recreate that — though its hard for me to look at an MT image and not be affected — no, it was something in the words: Ming talking about how taking pictures with film cameras is just a qualitatively different experience. Who wouldn’t want to try after hearing that?
            [Being into cameras]

            I was thinking about it last night while sat in a completely ridiculous meeting that didn’t finish until gone midnight: maybe it’s color and film because that’s the imagery of my youth. Researching Nikon film cameras I refound the Malaysian site, that TREASURE TROVE of information, seriously good—“mir.” I don’t know if Ming knows these guys or contributes, or is actually one of the guys! He might be sworn enemies with them! But whoever runs that site deserves a Nobel.
            [It’s a Pullitzer for you Ming; but you can have the Nobel if you’d prefer 🙂 ]

            Here’s a link to that page; look at the small photo of the guy fixing a camera. This just leaps off the screen at me. The color grading/tonality. It does something to me and I don’t think the fact that my early years and youth were saturated with magazines full of pictures and advertising with this look and feel is inconsequential.

            But wait, hold the phone! An iPhone app that meters!? Shall have to look out for that. I was factoring in a little incident light meter to my savings plan for the camera, but recently wondered whether I didn’t need/wouldn’t prefer a spot metering capability too/instead. I’m familiar with how reflective meters work and behave… Anyway. I’m not Ansel Adams or anything but I spent about three months shooting a D60 with an Ai lens mounted and no metering, and in my prime I could get it within a stop first time. Not bragging. No no. Just saying I really get what you were saying about eyeballing. And I agree it is good for awareness of light too [not just ambient levels but chiaroscuro, directional, soft, contrasty, etc.

            Lastly, I couldn’t leave the color film comment on a post about influences without mentioning this. I like it.

            Cheers Andre!

            [sorry for weird URL/site I’m on the move on the iPhone and couldn’t do any better!]

    • I am with you, Tom, on the whole “Butterfly Effect” thing as a rote answer to the mysteries of life. To have value as an answer to, generally complex, questions, the phenomenon would have to be reasonably common, otherwise it has no relevance (to this pragmatist at least), and a more appropriate answer would be “the answer to your question is: dumb luck/damned if I know/just because/God” (delete as appropriate). The reason I do not believe the phenomenon to happen in reality (though, as with anything when quantum mechanics is taken into account, anything is possible*) is the patently unreasonable idea that the systems governing the forces of the world are simple and uni-variable. For that butterfly to have its moment of meteorological fame, would all of the other flapping creatures of the world not have to stop their flapping? Otherwise would their micro-turbulence not counteract that of the would-be-rain-maker? If it came to pass, it would be a chilling moment of Hitchcockian proportions.

      Sorry about the tangent…Tom has a habit of doing that to me (I spent ages typing a response to one of his comments the other day about the relative qualitative merits of artistic reproductions/homage, with my argument being based on the chronological order in which the uneducated perceiver of the two works is exposed to them. I didn’t bother hitting the post button for fear of derailing the topic, but I can stand it no longer!

      In answer to the question “what influences lead to the production of a given piece of art?”, I refer you to my above quoted answer – take your pick of the options. [/flippant response mode based on self-entertainment value over truth off]

      *Including, as my astrophysicist university friend Gordon Cole – no not he of Half-Life – would unhelpfully play as his argument trump-card: “by the laws of quantum mechanics, if you were to throw any random ingredients into an oven, you could get a chocolate cake out”. I have tried this, and even with ingredients that would seem to lend themselves to the creation of a chocolate cake, no chocolate cake has yet be forthcoming. I demand a recount of the results of mine and Gordon’s debates at university.

      • haha typed whilst Ming was typing his (as usual more succinct) response!

        • You know what Mark Twain said about brevity…

          • Hmm….the saving sinners, or the shorter letter quote, or another?

            • Shorter letters.

              • Yeah…love that one…interestingly though, not actually his! As you may gather, it is not the first time his words of wisdom regarding brevity have been flung in my direction! Often I use over-elaboration as an attempt to overcome the ambiguity of text-based communication (having see the catastrophes that can occur!). Maybe we should make it one of our email assignments?! 😀

                • You’re welcome to submit shorter emails if you wish; I personally try to say as much as possible with as few words as possible. I guess it’s a necessity of efficiency rather than just wanting to be brief, though.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Ah, another midnight finish! The joy of it 🙂

                    Now, I’d like this to be taken in the context of sleep deprivation, exhaustion and mild starvation [I haven’t eaten since lunch]—most of all in the context of having a smile, but Ming, read that back again; then notice:

                    I personally…

                    Something should itch at your efficient side there.

                    I am, of course, just joshing! 😀

      • Tom Liles says:

        I would LOVE to have read your comment Ian. Never throw good words away! There’s no need to be stingy, this is digital paper down here, it’s literally endless. And as Gustave Flaubert said:

        Exuberance is better than taste

        • Ming…I’ll just stick to my normal emails, someone has to be the “ying” to your “yang”!

          Me: “I took this picture because I felt compelled to do so by the juxtaposition of human suffering against the suggested superiority of the cute kitten”
          Ming: “Its crap”

          j/k Ming loved my furry kitten pic, and was exuberant in his response …hey Tom…that Gustave guy was right!

          (actual interactions with Ming may not be as implied in this post)

    • Hi Tom, I am reminded of a few things through your post, but first a quote:

      “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” – T.S. Eliot

      I had a few interesting instructors/professors when I was working on my degree in fine art. In one particular photography class, the instructor use to talk about our next shooting assignment, to be completed prior to the next class. After telling us each assignment, he would go onwards to giving a slide show and talking about famous and influential images of the past; often giving some background on those famous individuals. The slide shows were in no way related to our next assignment. I found that aspect frustrating enough that after he did that during a few class sessions, I finally decided to stay afterwards and ask him about it. His reply was quite interesting. He stated that (using an example) if our assignment was called “walking” and then he gave a presentation that somewhere had one or more images of shoes in it, then 20 students would come back with shoe images, 1 or 2 would come back with images extremely far removed from the assignment (which they would be unable to explain/present in the context of the assignment), and 1 or 2 of us would come back with something interesting and relevant. It was a funny explanation, and I am shortening it terribly, but after talking to him I understood his approach.

      There is this idea that prevails on the internet that shooting film absolutely means you do your own processing and have your own darkroom. The reality is that people do still enjoy shooting on film, while using processing labs. Some people rent and are unable to set-up a darkroom where they live.

      Gear does not matter, until it does. 😉 These are really endless discussions. Obviously we have gear preferences, and not just for cameras and lenses. I don’t think it is bad to try out the cameras that well-respected pros use, though when they do not work out for you, I do suggest trying something else. I use a D3 despite it not being my camera of choice. I also use a Bronica RF645, though I don’t know any other pros using one, and it is not very common. I really enjoy using a 4×5, but it only works for some projects for some clients. So for me there is no do-it-all camera, and I will probably always have several cameras.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Hi Gordon, another nice to read comment. Thanks!

        Your teacher’s approach and that story remind me of the findings of early psychoanalysts. Freud would play association games and felt they were important in leading to and uncovering issues a patient [or any of us] had. Jungians later found, and showed, that you can literally start anywhere and still wind up at the same complexes, i.e., like moths drawn to a flame, we just converge upon what it is that fixates us without effort or often awareness.
        My friend Roger [Wojahn], living like a REAL MAN on a boat somewhere at sea as we speak, often mentioned this “co-creation” thing, that looking at artworks is very close to looking at Rorschach tests. Roger told me this after I’d told someone that I reject all this subjective / objective divide stuff [as two disparate concepts, causally unrelated, etc], that I thought there are only subjective-objective complexes [I even go as far as blankly stating I believe and am convinced the fabric of reality itself is bound in that. Has to be]. And you strengthened my appreciation of both when you told me about how in paintings you [‘you’ as painters generally] would intentionally leave out detail that viewers would fill in in their own way. We have the evidence from literary studies about hyper-protected cooperative principles, intentional fallacy, etc., etc. And a mountain of psychological and philosophical work to support the above position. And a growing mountain of physical evidence [the results of our most modern physics]; though many scientists don’t wish to believe it. To be fair, often the people involved in the advanced physics are VERY sympathetic to views like this; it’s the more “house cat” scientists, the Richard Dawkinses, that insist on trying to explain e-v-e-r-y-thing with the scientific method: an inductive “object only” language. Seriously bad tool for explaining everything. It can’t investigate my sudden urge to shoot film. My preference for beer. My wife’s irreproducible glances. It can’t even investigate its own terms [its own language]. As I said before, only mathematics can investigate mathematics—and it doesn’t need physical objects to do that. Just an investigating mind. On the contrary, nothing can investigate objects better than science, but it needs the language and tools of maths to speak. There’s mind and matter, right there, DEFINITELY NOT SEPARATE. Can you hear me Richard Dawkins! I don’t know why I’m picking on him. Completely random.

        Back to the Jungians. What they also found with the tool of Freudian free association, was that it could easily contaminate the patient’s thought; the contamination came from the analyst. I said that patients, and us!, would converge on their complexes from any arbitrary start — and that’s the case — but it is also true that we don’t only have one complex and they are shifting and plastic and irrational. You certainly would not get the same psychoanalytical result from the same patient and start point for free association session, but with different psychoanalysts. Jung was very careful with this and felt that the best that could be done was to try and mitigate against his own biases polluting the patient’s psyche; but at the same time fully give himself over the patient and join with them on a voyage toward whatever it was that ailed them. It wasn’t lost on the great man that he was more like a witch doctor than a “scientist” when doing this. Where I respect Jung is that he didn’t put a value judgement in there on that comparison. He was a very brave man.

        So, I can well see your teachers point about what would happen if he put a shoe in the slide show when the assignment was “walking.” Salesmen do the opposite. They very good ones — unconsciously I think, but you never know — seem to drop the right word/image in here or there and plant a seed in the punter’s mind that germinates and flowers in a sale.

        I hate and love salesmen at the same, by the way. Perhaps my favorite narrative of all time is a film [from a play] called GLENGARRY-GLENROSS by David Mamet. The story “Death of a Salesman” is up there too. Am I converging on my neuroses again? 🙂

        There is this idea that prevails on the internet that shooting film absolutely means you do your own processing and have your own darkroom. The reality is that people do still enjoy shooting on film, while using processing labs.

        Bit in bold is me! I hope!! 😮

        So for me there is no do-it-all camera, and I will probably always have several cameras.

        I CAN NOT WAIT for the day I have some chops and can say that with the confident assurance and weight you do Gordon. You say it and I nod my head. The same way Ming drops a diamond or gives me some advice and I nod my head…

        At the moment, I have several cameras. There’s no “tool for the job” stuff with me. They look cool to me; the simple idea of being the owner of them, does it [mostly] for me. I also take amateur pictures with them [getting that to “excellent” is the other part of the equation]. But mainly, they look cool to me. There’s no logical reason or argument from pragmatism that I should own a D3 — as you do — it’s a professional camera, for professional image makers. Like you and Ming… for little old me: I just like the finder, the moderate resolution [better with my cheap Ai MF lenses]; but most of all, the looks. And the owns a D3 when he could have had a XXX for the same price. That is a very real angle. I take the D3 everywhere with me. Like a designer handbag. That takes AWESOME photos. Conspicuous consumption? Definitely yes. Nothing more to it.

        But I earns my money and I makes my choices.

        And I can’t wait for the day when I cans alsos backs it up with strong images!

        [Ming, I was seriously saving for your email school… but I have a few issues, not altogether financial, I might drop you a consulting mail about it over the weekend. It’s nothing heavy. Don’t worry.]

        P/S I do contend though, that better equipment takes better pictures. Not just in an objective “more resolution, more recorded bits, blah, blah” way… I mean I just go out on a limb and a-priori flat out gamble that well in excess of 90% of the best photos ever were made with equipment which at the time, would have been good to the best you could get. Ming introduced me to Majoli [this is how little I know about photography!], who can be used as the thin end of a wedge to prove my point false. OK, I take that. And invite everyone to look once more at how many works come the Majoli route, and how many the other… isn’t it obvious that better equipment is responsible for better photos? I won’t labor this point anymore, as I’m certainly in a minority and am being a bit needlessly contrarian. I sense it too. But I still think better equipment matters. Your line was the best perhaps:

        Gear does not matter, until it does.

        And after that, until you reach Li Mu Bai levels of skill. Then you don’t need the camera anymore.
        [which ties it back to that lovely T.S Eliot line, Gordon]

        • Tom, it’s comments like this that make me very proud of this site. There’s a level of thought here that goes way beyond anything I’ve seen on any other photography site. Just wow.

          There’s nothing wrong with the D3 – except perhaps the weight. Having carried around a Lunar for the last couple of days (don’t ask) I’d much rather have the weight back, thanks.

          No worries, we’ll discuss offline. And you owe me slide 3/4, I believe.

          As for better gear being better: I think it’s partially true even for the Li Mu Bais, because there’s gear we enjoy/ like to use, and gear we don’t. The compositions don’t change, but the motivation to carry and use it certainly does. (I’m now suddenly missing Green Destiny – aka the 501CM – which was left in Kuala Lumpur since my digital back is on a Swedish repair holiday…)

          • Tom Liles says:

            /brushing fingernails on shirt 🙂

            There’s a mail in the air—I may reach out and pluck it and send it to you in the coming days!

        • One of the most popular images I made was shot on a restored (by me) 1950 AGFA 6×9 folder camera with a triplet lens. That camera cost me about $US 10 not including a few cleaning items to restore it. To be fair, I was using Kodak E200 and took a reading off a Sekonic L-358, so I was not at all winging it. I think if you understand the limitations of the equipment, then you can find ways of producing compelling images.

          • Tom Liles says:

            I’ve thought about it.

            And have decided I need to do a u-turn, climb down—run as fast as I can in the other direction and pretend it never happened and wasn’t me.

            Equipment doesn’t make a difference, until it does [and then until it doesn’t again]. But its impact on the image is necessarily of less importance than its operator [it’s an unthinking machine]. At the limit we’re talking strokes of artistic genius; on a more realistic level, we’re talking about your last line:

            I think if you understand the limitations of the equipment, then you can find ways of producing compelling images

            /puff of dust, Tom disappears over the horizon

            • The right tool in the right hands and all that. I don’t think most people would know how to use a technical camera or tilt-shift lens, but it’s the kind of thing that gets me exited in an unhealthy way because it lets me do otherwise near-impossible things. How about another JC car analogy? (Though I admit of late I’m really enjoying Chris Harris’ presentations.)

              “Michael Schumacher might be able to convince a our Kia Cee’d to do physically impossible things the rest of us can only dream about with a mere jut of his enormous chin, but he’s probably a faster in a proper Formula One car. A lot faster. And because more horespowers and less weight must be better, the producers decided they’d now like to stuff a fat English bloke into a one of those things. Which meant me. And I wish I could say I got a lot faster too, but all I did quickly was stall it. And after the men in fireproof suits with laptops mended it, I stalled it again. And gave up.”

              And to bring things back on topic, there’s you and JC influencing my writing…

              • Chris Harris is a fairly amazing driver of road cars, though it was interesting when he met up with Martin Brundle and had a go in a Formula 1 car. I think it is tough to compare racing cars and cameras, though it does say a bit about practice, comfort levels, and more practice. 😉 Nikon continue to refine little aspects of controls on the latest cameras (D4 command dials compared to D3, for example), yet in some ways the F4 was the ultimate racing car for me, at least in 35mm size.

                I went to a presentation of a fairly good commercial advertising photographer several years ago. He was discussing various projects. The flyer for the event had an old Crown Graphic with a simple lens on it. About halfway into the presentation he revealed that the Crown Graphic was his main camera. It was a bit of an epiphany for me, in that I had far better equipment than the presenter. Of course equipment still matters at times, though I tend to look more into lighting and grip gear.

                • True; these things are becoming so increasingly specialized that you really need a lot of experience to operate them well.

                  As for the Crown Graphic – surprised a) his clients don’t mind the waiting time involved with film and b) he doesn’t mind the increased postprocessing time afterwards…

                  • The photographer was Dana Neibert. He has since moved on to the latest Hasselblad, though I like his earlier images more. He shot 4×5 Kodak Portra in that Crown Graphic, did his own processing, and ran his own scans with an Imacon Flextight. Basically, his turn-around time was not much different than someone processing RAW files.

                    I do know a few pros who shoot tethered, and the client gets files at the end of a shoot, but those individuals appear to be the exception. Most of the pros I know do their own RAW processing and file preparations. There was a recent time when ultra-fast turn-around provided some competitive advantage in the US, but agencies that wanted that figured out that the fastest turn-around was to do everything in-house. So now the more careful photographers who take time with RAW processing and file preparation may have a turn-around time of a few days.

                    • That’s probably due to a difference in rendering styles between 645 and 4×5″. (I’m assuming by ‘latest Hasselblad’ you didn’t mean the Lunar.)

                      Actually processing plus scanning does add a bit of time; the Flextight takes about 20min per image. After that you’ve still got to do the same retouching you would with a digital file; so it adds up to another couple of hours, I’d imagine. Probably not a big deal for some things but definitely adds up in quantity. I only deliver finished files; turnaround depends again on quantity. I’ve got about 150 from the shoots earlier this week which will take most of the remainder of the month to finish. Watches…are very dusty at 36MP.

      • I think what your instructor was trying to do is avoid unduly influencing you all…

        I feel you on gear – I don’t like the D800E much, but I use it because it’s the best thing for the job. Several cameras is fine…several systems is far more likely.

        • Well, I certainly don’t want to count how many lenses I have here, but definitely agree that it is “systems”. Of course that leads to bags; I have a large portion of the Lowepro catalogue to carry those various systems.

          • And Think Tank and Billingham and then there’s accessories, batteries, tripods heads, dry cabinets to store the lot…it never bloody ends. 😛

        • Ming: “I feel you on gear – I don’t like the D800E much, but I use it because it’s the best thing for the job”

          Hush now Mr Nikon, cover your ears, don’t listen to the nasty man!

          To be fair I don’t have a history with other cameras, apart from the X100 (which I also loved despite the many reported issues), but my love affair with my D800 only grows stronger every day. You can see our wedding list on Amazon…

          • A wedding list is supposed to be populated by things for both husband and wife, not one party only!

          • Oh, somehow missed your magnum opus post there Tom…really great. I can only mirror Ming’s response, and confirm that while I came for the pictures, I stay for the conversation 🙂

            • Tom Liles says:

              /still brushing fingernails on shirt

              //and then flicks his bangs and flashes Blue Steel

            • Tom Liles says:

              No that’s well said Ian and the feeling is mutual. I haven’t actually met any of you, but I enjoy your company and the conversation here more than anything. Because of the welcome, open, adult atmosphere. I don’t make anything or achieve anything on my own. It’s all a co-creation. The comments are what we make them, etc., etc. Ming spoke about growing the site; I would genuinely hope that we can contribute a little to that—though our words are piffle next to the MT photography. Which must always be the raison d’être for the site and the sine qua non for its popularity. But I still love the comments: fun!

              I anxiously await lainer1’s next sage words of wisdom on hobbies. Larry’s anecdotes about Amish prayer. Ming routinely dropping flat out discovery of the decade gems. Gordon, Paul, David Meyer, Stephen, Stephan, Roger, Eric Hanson, Mr David Babsky, Todd, JeffC, Jack Siegel, Michael Matthews, YOU IAN, and a hundred more: these are just the names that pop up without even thinking or looking; I come here to read you.

              After reading Ming

              After looking at his pictures

              After looking at mine

              After taking some myself

              After looking at Ming’s pictures


              • Oh no, you’re all definitely contributing to the site – at this rate, I won’t have to write articles soon!

                I’m starting to think we should organize a serious reader meetup in Tokyo later in the year. Who’s in? (Before anybody suggests another city, we cannot find ‘The Pungency’ or ‘Calpis Soda BIG’ in vending-machine form elsewhere, nor is Acros 100 so easily available. I find all of these things critical to strongly creative photography – or perhaps that was just me tripping out on too much of whatever is in Calpis. Did you ever try The Pungency, by the way? It’s seriously quite good.)

                • Would love to, but apart from my left kidney, I have nothing left for you Ming…nothing!! 😛

                  Now, what the hell is this “The Pungency” stuff? I take it it is much better than it sounds/smells? 😀

                  Is it like Kwak beer? Dumbest name for one of the best beers ever! > vote for meet up in Bruges (could probably get there on a toe).

                  You want a toe? I can get you a toe…believe me…

                  • It’s actually milk tea in a bottle…keep your toes, for everything else there’s Mastercard. Or so they say.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Ah, no, I photographed but haven’t drunk, nay experienced, The Pungency

                    It’s one of those things that’s just so perfect in my head I can’t touch it and disturb and destroy its perfection. I just want to leave it like it is forever: find and reference of the century [going up in the World]. Calpis Water, Calpis Oasis, even Calpis Soda, however, are all on the table.

                    The blog.mingthein.com version

                    • It’s good stuff. Really*. You don’t know what you’re missing out on.

                      *Perhaps not the best compliment to a riceball, though.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Well I’m in! 😀

      • re. Gordon’s comment on gear mattering, another way to say it (which may get me elected president of the tautology club) is that gear matters only when it does, otherwise it doesn’t. The difference between a novice and skilled photographer is that the latter recognizes when this is true more often, and more often can do something about it. To pull in another car analogy, track day instructors often say that compared to a skilled driver, a novice driver drives the slow corners too quickly, and the fast corners too slowly.

        Tom, the reflected light meter I use on the iPhone is called “Light Meter”. It’s free, but has ads. There is a Kickstarter project to make an incident light meter for the iPhone (that I’ve backed): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lumulabs/lumu-bringing-light-meter-to-the-21st-century It boggles my mind that it is not hard these days to perch a 50 MHz 32-bit CPU on top of a phone’s headphone jack, and it’s powered by AC in the form of an audio signal! I still remember my first 50 MHz Pentium computer.

        • I started off using the light meter app, but found that it was much slower than a small hotshoe meter (Voigtlander VC Meter II) or lately, an eyeball…

  15. Ming, I’ll tell you my story but I’m not sure how to classify it. When I first discovered your site not so long ago in December from Petapixel carrying your composition and aspect ratio article, I was amazed at the B&W tonality in your pictures. After bugging you a couple of times, and getting almost all of the B&W iPad videos along with your big Photoshop video, I’ve been converting a few pictures into B&W from each shooting session in the last 6 months. I’d just pick whatever picture felt right.

    What amazed me is that the tonal richness of my pictures have been improving quite a bit and it’s not from better post production skills as I’ve noticed it before any processing. I think what’s happened is that I’ve been unconsciously looking for light and textures that will end up yielding a richer-looking B&W picture.

    It’s probably a combination of the passive (steeped in your pics as well as Salgado’s and Adams’s) and active (forcing myself to look only at the contrast of light and shadow at the physical location) but this was a surprising and pleasant discovery I just realized not too long ago.

  16. Ron Carroll says:

    I’ll address your question, but first I want to address your definitions, because your terms were confusing to me… “Passive-absorption” is more akin to the ‘conscious step change’ you mentioned — at least in my mind — and the “active,” out of the blue experience sounds more like ‘inspirational’ to me. But to keep is simple, I’ll use your terms.

    I think passive-absorption is the dominant factor, since it is the way of the world. It’s simply another name for evolution, which is how everything work in the natural world. One improvement leads us to a place where we can better see the next step, the way to the next improvement. If we’re doing our part to evolve as individuals then it will be reflected in the improvements — the evolution — in our creative work. This has also been described as standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants — the people who have gone before us, including ourselves and our earlier work that precedes our current work. But here’s the thing… This is such a common occurrence that is goes unnoticed most all the time — it’s happening everywhere in every facet of life so it’s easily overlooked. It’s the “active,” lightening-bolt out of the blue breakthroughs that get noticed, and commented on, precisely because they are less common. Here’s an analogy from the world of creative writing…

    The breakthrough moments in your story telling happen when your Muse decides to show up and bless you with her gift. But she will never appear unless you take the proactive step to sit down at your desk everyday to write. Doing the daily writing leads to the improvements in your writing through the passive-absorption process. And then one day the Muse appears and you have your Aha! Moment — your lightening bolt experience — and there’s a big breakthrough. And it feels so good that you decide to show up at your desk again the next day to continue plugging away with your passive-absorption improvements, because it’s the only way the Muse is ever going to come visit again.

    • Let me clarify:
      1. We are influenced by what’s around us but aren’t consciously looking for answers – passive.
      2. We have a problem to solve or an objective to achieve, and spend time and effort looking for a solution or developing a technique – active.
      3. Rare lightning bolt moments when inspiration strikes out of the blue…

  17. I don’t know why, but I feel I learn the most when I try unconventional things. Like, shooting portraits with a wide-angle or using a rangefinder when shooting concerts. I guess doing things the unconventional way forces you to think things more through, something that definitely makes you a better and more skilled photographer IMHO.

  18. Passive is good to a point however applying the knowledge is key to understanding. Then teaching someone takes it to the next level.

    • Your last point is the interesting one: you have to have a much deeper understanding than you think in order to teach something, which in turn makes you self-examine and improve…

  19. Ron Scubadiver says:

    Ming the answer to your question is both active and passive absorption are shaping photography, and probably a few things you have not thought of and I never will. As I read your well thought pieces I keep coming back to the same theme, that gear has become so good that even the low end stuff is amazing. What would you have given for a D3200 with 35mm f/1.8 12 years ago? Something running round my head lately is what Maisel teaches, color, contrast and gesture. Perhaps that is active. Then again, so much of my thought process is subliminal that I hardly know what I am thinking half the time. My objective is to have fun, and for my viewers to have fun. I don’t know if that is good photography, but it is a good time.

    • I’m always hoping that somebody in the reader pool might have thought of them and would bridge the knowledge gap…

      Yes, low end stuff is more than sufficient – even for the most demanding of applications. Trouble is if you turn up with that to a big dollar shoot, you’ll get laughed at. So we must also play to face, unfortunately…

      • Ron Scubadiver says:

        Ming, you are right about the image one’s gear projects. Over a period of time participation in photo forums has had some influence. I can’t say that all the critique that I received was valid and it took me a long time to filter out the BS and reach a level of confidence in what I was doing so that I knew when it was BS. [OK, I did go through a period of harassment and controversy in a certain very large photo forum.] In the end, it comes from within. One either has the visual intelligence to produce good or even great photography or one does not. Training is like a college entrance exam prep course. It can add a few points to the score and provide an advantage, but it will not turn an average joe into a star. Finding and following influences can also speed the process. By the way, I also take a lot from Steve McCurry. You might notice, all my favorites are journalistic photographers. For some photography is the process of capturing an elaborately lit and constructed scene. For me, it is the ability to capture a moment.

        Among your many followers it is likely someone will have and idea. Besides, you are forcing people to think, and that is what a good teacher is supposed to do.

        • Aren’t they one and the same? The ‘elaborately lit scene’ is creating the moment; other than that, the same rules of light/ subject/ composition all apply.

          Interesting – I never set out to be a teacher with the site; I just wanted to document my thinking process and foster some discussion. But hey, if people are learning from the more philosophical stuff – that’s great! 🙂

          • Ron Scubadiver says:

            The same rules apply, without a doubt. They come together in different ways. Few can document their thinking process, so when someone can and it its sound, others pay attention.

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