OT: Thoughts on blogging in an increasingly crowded space

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Content consumption and creation is a 24/7 business.

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

I’m going to write this article from the viewpoint of somebody relatively new to the whole web thing*: mingthein.com has been running seriously for about 20 months now. We have unique monthly readership well into six figures; people visit an average of 5-6 times per month, spending 10+ minutes reading whatever it is that happens to catch their eye. I think this is not a bad outcome at all for a site that was never meant to be mass; I suspect the sheer volume of text puts a lot of people off, let alone the content. So, take that with a pinch of salt. πŸ™‚

*But who’s also finally had the chance to try out and refine all of the theory that gets sold to consulting clients; it seems most of it doesn’t actually work in practice. Bottom line: hire people with real experience/ results

There are, however, several unquestionable differences between myself and the majority of the ‘photographer’-bloggers out there: firstly, I’ve spent precisely zero on advertising or promotion for the site. The audience was built organically. Secondly, I’m about as brand agnostic as it gets; I don’t get paid to write anything or use anything. I buy my gear like everybody else. Thirdly, I don’t have any third party advertising – the sole exception, the promo entry banner for the Maybank Photo Awards, is there because I was head judge for the competition – and I think my regular readers should have a decent advantage over most other entrants πŸ˜‰ Fourthly, blogging is not my full time job. Far from it. In fact, net income derived from the site – teaching, workshops, videos – is firstly nowhere near as high as you might think, and I still have to shoot and do other creative work for a living. The inescapable conclusion is that I do this whole thing solely because I want to, not because I have to.

And that I think gives me a lot more freedom to both be objective editorially as well as commercially about the whole thing. There’s no denying that this site and its associated activities take up a huge chunk of time – perhaps as much as 40% of my work hours – and many of you will recall my earlier posts musing how to keep this running and making financial sense. I ruled out subscriptions because it would defeat the point of an open platform. I ruled out advertising because it would imply compromised objectivity, and the tricks required to get the right numbers* would make the site unpleasant to read. The current design is as much a function of aesthetic considerations as well as the underlying structure of the content and limitations of the WordPress platform.

*Clicks or uniques; what this does not take into account is time per page – and implied total time on site – as well as the ability to game the former by having forums, splitting out articles into multiple pages, and on top of that, the quality of those viewers: are they just clicking through because they want to get to the end to read the conclusion for free, or are they the kind that buy? The conversion rate matters: 1000 clicks at a 1% conversion rate is worse than 100 clicks at a 20% conversion rate.

To be a successful site – and the reality is that there’s no way to measure success other than by financial return – I think content is the key; not just random low-quality crap in quantity, but more importantly, quality and uniqueness. If people can find the same content elsewhere, then there’s little chance they’ll come back to you. If you are the only person with that content, then you will attract views even if you don’t shout very loud – and that’s precisely what I’ve decided to do. This site now has approximately 650 full-length articles, 3,000 images and1.5 million words of content; excluding another million or so on the site in the form of in my comment replies, and thousands of emails on top of that. (To benchmark: your average paperback novel has about 100,000 words.) The sheer ‘volume of stuff’ out there with my name on it, in areas of specialist domain, means that I’m visible when you search. And I think this is the future of the little guy: we cannot compete with the bigger guys on advertising. Buying adwords or playing the search engine rankings game is impossible because we would last about a week financially. In order to generate revenue from whatever stream your site does – advertising, referrals, sales etc – you need to have the volume of traffic. Conversion rates are naturally falling as the number of sites increases; the only way to grow is to either drive traffic or drive conversion. And conversion is more likely to happen with influence; influence requires trust, and trust requires consistency and demonstration of expertise. Simply, you’re less likely to buy something from a dodgy looking site with horrible images, text that appears to be written by a five year old and a plethora of ads than one which looks professional and whose writers actually use the product in question and deliver the goods consistently.

I think we actually went through a period where the internet satisfied an unrequited urge to create for a lot of people; as a result, there was a lot of knowledge and expertise uploaded just so people could become visible; enough so that most internet users have been subconsciously conditioned to expect everything for free. That was “Web 2.0”. In consulting-speak, the low-hanging fruit are plucked; the cash cows are milked dry, and we’ve got to move on; saturation point came and went and the first wave of creators realized that it was a lot of work and not much return other than the occasional (virtual) pat on the back via email. But mostly, society is made up of consumers, not creators; people read/ see/ watch/ listen, get bored, then want something new; it’s an insatiable cycle, because if you’re not going to fill it by creating more, faster, better, now, then somebody else will. And there will always be somebody else to take their place, too. Consider this: it takes five minutes to watch a five minute video regardless of whether it’s good or utter crap – but anywhere between five minutes to five weeks to produce. And it’s almost always free to view. Clearly there’s something wrong here.

The cause of the slow shift we’re seeing now is two things: consumers getting jaded, and the creators hitting a productivity wall. There’s only so much you can physically do or produce before it becomes unsustainable and/ or impossible. And creativity isn’t exactly an on-demand commodity. Supply of the new becomes restricted; value is slowly being restored. The upshot of all this is that quality content – and by extension, knowledge – has value again. The more specialised the content, the higher the value. Duh; nothing new here whatsoever. But in the big, shouty ‘look-at-me!’ world of the internet, perhaps somebody has to reveal the Emperor’s new clothes aren’t all they seem to be. Some operators realise this, and some don’t; I’ve been asked to write guest posts or to license material; I only do so if there’s a mutually beneficial gain to be had in exposure. I certainly don’t share my content willy-nilly to all and sundry. There are other operators who’ve gone down the route of more, but not necessarily better; they’ve lost their credibility and as a result, the quality of the audience has declined. If it’s one thing you see on the web, it’s that the speed of information propagation works both ways: you can make a name overnight, but you can lose your reputation just as quickly, too.

Perhaps it’s because generating quality, unique content take time. A review that’s a 500-word regurgitation of the spec sheet in paragraph form is clearly far less useful than a proper, considered evaluation by an experienced professional with proof of merit or lack of; as fast as I am with these things, to review a new camera properly takes the better part of four whole (and unbillable) days. Please remember that before anybody asks me to review their fancy of the moment.

I think the best way for me to end is with a few tips for existing and prospective bloggers, career or otherwise. Listen or not; it’s just my experience.

  • Content matters. Quality and uniqueness over quantity, always. Better if you can have both, but we are of course human.
  • Don’t try and compete on things you can’t win – SEO, adword bidding etc. Use social media instead, and even partner with existing sites to increase your visibility in the early days. Of course, in order to be a mutually attractive proposition, you need to have something to offer: content.
  • Readers are people. People prefer dealing with other people than machines. Be professional, contactable, responsive and friendly – at all times. Just because you are running a virtual company does not mean manners have to be virtual, too Any one of these people has the potential to be a huge customer. In fact, treat your whole web front with the same amount of care as though it was a physical business.
  • Visuals matter: site design, usability, graphics, images, logos etc. all have more impact than the text. Try to have a unique visual identity; your site will be remember and therefore revisited.
  • Quality control and professionalism: everything from your grammar to the way you answer emails to contributors.
  • Be organised and consistent. You won’t get regular readers if you update every day, then once a month, then twice a day, then not in six months. No matter how good your content – you need to condition people to want to come back, and know when they should be expecting something new. It’s not easy to get back customers you’ve previously lost due to neglect; imagine if this happened in a physical business.
  • Try to make things interactive to encourage returning visitors; if you can’t manage a forum, then at least encourage and participate in comments. (Sometimes, I think this works a little too well – we’ve had up to 400 comments on a single article before…)
  • Be clear about why you’re doing it: if not, then you a) won’t be committed enough to do it well, and b) it won’t be worth your time because the results won’t be what you expect. I continue running this site because it’s an outlet for my desire to write and my desire to share my images, and it also connects me with like-minded people around the world.
  • Whatever you do, don’t plagiarise. Anything. You’d hate it if somebody else did it to you.

Above all, like anything else – running a site well requires hard work. Lots of it. Be prepared to put in the hours, the keyboard time (and eventually keyboards, too – I’m on my third one since starting this site) and dealing with the rude idiots who think that just because you publish your email address you’re at their beck and call 24/7 – you aren’t, but there are many ways to say that. I’m going to leave all of you career bloggers with one final thought: measuring your clicks, likes or followers is completely worthless because there is no direct correlation between that number and profitability; measure your ARPU (a metric from the telco industry; Average Revenue/Return per User)instead; it’s the only way to know if your effort is actually paying off. MT


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


  1. I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of
    your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve
    got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people
    could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

    • No, because complex ideas need words to describe them. If you’re looking for a top ten picture repost thingy you’re in the wrong place.

  2. two brief comments from someone who stops by once a week or so and appreciates your detailed reviews, thoughtfulness, and idiosyncrasy as a photographer-blogger:
    (1) the recent commenter is wrong: typos and grammar mistakes are rare on this site. I’m a professional editor and I spot such things quickly. occasionally certain sentences or phrases sound like they were written by a non-native english speaker. but your writing is overall more fluent, intelligent, and verbally rich than most other photography blogs.
    (2) I think claiming to be “about as brand agnostic as it gets” is a bit of an exaggeration since you’re clearly partial to Nikon over Canon. (the Camerapedia entry on the Canon D5 MkIII is telling.)

    • (1) Thank you.
      (2) Well, until Canon can offer a 36MP solution, I think it’s pretty easy to justify using Nikon – that, and the fact that I already own all the lenses I need means buying into another system to satisfy reader curiosity is pretty silly…I am a commercial photographer first and a writer a distant second (or even third).

  3. As always, Ming, a really well written post. You have a grasp of much beyond the world of photography. You’ve given me food for thought in other aspects of my professional life as a Web / graphic designer and marketer.

    However, I need to comment on two of your bullet points:

    “Visuals matter: site design, usability, graphics, images, logos etc. all have more impact than the text. Try to have a unique visual identity; your site will be remember and therefore revisited.”
    Visuals absolutely do matter, but only for the initial impression. They fade into obscurity rather quickly. And usability always matters. At the end of the day, though, I think text has the most impact. If the quality of the written word isn’t there, visitors aren’t likely to revisit, because they haven’t got anything substantive from the site. (Assuming, of course, that it’s not a site that’s all about displaying visual content and graphics and such.)

    “Quality control and professionalism: everything from your grammar to the way you answer emails to contributors.”
    Again, I absolutely agree on this point. However, your articles are quite liberally sprinkled with typos and other grammatical errors. I don’t obsess over it because the quality of your content far outweighs a few typos. I recognize it as the result of not having the time to proofread the massive amount of content you produce. And I suppose I’m becoming desensitized to it, as poor grammar on the Internet has become the norm rather than the exception.

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks; I suppose that’s because I wasn’t always a photographer.

      Text: you have to stay long enough to read it to decide it’s worth coming back – if your layout is so ugly, or your text so small, nobody is going to read your masterpiece πŸ™‚

      My articles being liberally sprinkled with typos? I don’t think so, because I’ve got a couple of eagle-eyed readers who’ll email as soon as they spot one. It averages one a month. Given that I also put out an average of 50,000 words of content a month as a secondary job, that’s not bad. And I definitely disagree with you on grammar.

  4. Edmund Cheung says:

    This is probably one of the best written and thought provocative article I have read in over 10 years about the internet. It is composed and thought out just like your photos. Elegant, thought provoking, framed, pithy and automatic ingrained from experience; but not over contrived. Thanks for the perspective. You really can or should at least have some Amazon links to the equipment and cameras you use and like to garner at least a little more income for your efforts. Also I really do think people would still come back to your site and blog over and over with one or two discreet and controlled ads. You already have me hooked and I just started to rediscover photography for the past 3 months.

    Please do not use your precious time to respond it this post. I know how labor intensive and time consuming it is just to reply a few brief words to emails and posts. Trust me know. 3 years ago I did a video series on YouTube on a specialized disease and I am still getting almost daily comments and posts. Thanks.

  5. Regarding comments, I’ve been thinking a lot about them recently, and how to improve the quality and reduce the volume of comments posted. When I started online 14 years ago there were a lot less people, and so while there was noise/spam comments around, if you built a thoughtful community (as you have done here) you would mostly get thoughtful, high-signal comments. As more people use the Internet the ratio has changed – due I think to a change in culture. There’s so many sites you can comment on, so many people to disagree with, that a quick comment fired off has become the norm. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else – a quick response, unconsidered and often sharp, is a natural online reaction to reading a comment you disagree with.

    My main idea is called “Slow comments” (named after the slow food and slow web movements here in the UK). Send the commenter a copy of their comment 12-24 hours after they posted it, asking “Are you sure you want to post this? Is is respectful, or does it make you look like an idiot?” and they can either say “Yes”, “No”, or “I want to edit it”. Only after they’ve made this choice is the comment published/queued for approval.

    Sure, “confirm your email address” is a tried and tested way to reduce comment spam, but that’s not the purpose here. I know that removing the “heat of the moment” from my comments stops me posting things I’ll regret later – and having tested it myself (write a comment and save it for 24 hours before posting) also makes me take more effort over the few comments that I post (like this).

    The other advantage (as I see it) is it slows down the discussion. There’s less pressure to be part of it in the first 6 hours, else the world will have moved on to the next article and you will not have your say, hopefully encouraging thoughtful reflection rather than incessant consumption. Obviously the site admin is exempt from all the delays (or as many as he/she chooses).

    The second idea I’ve had is much simpler: impose a “Minimum length” restriction for comments. It might work for other sites, but you already get decent-size comments from most people!

    • I honestly rarely need to moderate or otherwise quality control the comments; I’m very proud to say that the quality of responses here is outstanding. And often the below the line is far more interesting than my original post…

  6. Ming, i love what you are doing here and just want to say thanks even more for your unbiased/objective reviews. One of the few places i can count on the net for original and insightful info. you are kind of a role model for me since i want to write more about my photographic passion too πŸ™‚

    Keep up the fantastic work (but dont burn yourself out).

  7. Wayne Yuhasz says:

    Thank you for your consistent producing of the “thinking photographer” web site: excellent content, hence of great value. I usually disagree with your conclusions but you always identify and frame the issues and discussion clearly in a cogent style.
    I recommend your site to many other photographer friends.
    Again thanks for the insightful,quality materials and thoughts.

  8. I hope that you do find some measure of financial success because I have been greatly enjoying your site. The photos are a spectacular tour de force of how to do it right – you’ve clearly got an eye for light, shadow, color, and texture that makes my jaw drop. I feel a horrible urge to buy every piece of equipment you use because I’m desparate to connect your results to something I can understand, technical gear issues. I find an equal measure of enjoyment in your writing. Your use of language is crisp clear and never demeaning or judgemental, while traversing ideas and rational concepts which engage and excecise my mind. Thank you for putting forth the effort to share your professional and personal world in such a magnificent way. It does, frankly, embarrass the established media on every level. It’s a pleasure to be welcomed at the grown up table for a change (I’m glaring at you, TV).

    • Haha, thank you – I try. But I think you’re going to find a bigger improvement change from learning and upping your skills. You know, I’ve got these videos…

      Writing is one of the things I still enjoy very much – I do it entirely because I want to, and in a style that pleases me. Without the demands of client photography. Perhaps the transparency that comes from that lack of inherent pressure is why others enjoy it. Don’t even get me started on TV. There’s frankly zero quality programming out there anymore. The really high quality, engaging stuff is being produced independently.

  9. I definitely agree with Mike Johnston on getting a couple of guest on board. What I find lacking in this website is a more in-depth discussions on the printing side of the process. Articles on quality of papers, inks and printing methods would be a great addition to the website. And also it’ll be great to have book reviews relating to art, design, creativity and also photography.

    In terms of monetising this website, again I would instantly buy e-books from previous articles according to themes. From a personal finance point of view, as long as there is a receipt to it, I can claim it in my tax return…though I always exceed the limit by a thousand ringgit or so a year…

    • Hold your horses…it’s a photography website. Creativity, sure; art and design are starting to push that a bit too far away from the primary purpose of the site. As for printing: the reason I haven’t written much is because it’s nearly impossible to show meaningful, illustrative examples through a digital medium. It simply doesn’t make any sense because things would be even more subjective than usual.

      E books make more sense than printed ones, but I suspect people will ask ‘why pay?’ when it’s out there for free online – and I’m hardly going to spend even more time writing for limited returns. It doesn’t make financial sense…

      • I know that, but some of my best source of inspiration is not from photography books, but from poetry books. Basically what I want to know is your views on books that give you your inspirations.

        And about the ebooks, you don’t have to write a new one, just reorganised the previous article in a more e-book friendly format…something that I can read on my kindle…

        Well, at least that’s what I would like to see, though, again you are right about whether it’ll make any financial sense from your POV.

        • I have to admit I’m more of a visual person; poetry really doesn’t do it for me. Finally got around to opening Salgado’s Genesis the other day, and was blown away. I’m going to have another go at it, let my thoughts crystalize somewhat, and then attempt a coherent review in the near future.

  10. Ming, with your excellent command of the language and thoughtful approach to the philosophy of making good photographs, have you thought about publishing a book? I know that there are many complications in such an endeavour but even a ‘best of blog entries’ would be worthwhile. Many of us enjoy something that we can keep in our hands rather than a transient image on a screen. After all, that is why we print pictures.

    I particularly appreciate your desire for perfection, both in images and in hardware.

    • I have, but the economics don’t make sense. You either need high individual book prices – and fine art quality output – or a huge volume, which as popular as I think I am, doesn’t even come close to the amount of work it’d require to compile and edit. And then I’d be unhappy with the compromise in print quality of the images!

      I honestly make more from a couple of days of commercial work πŸ™‚

  11. Moreover, if you can figure out a nice way to make money from the blog without changing it too much, it wouldn’t bother me at all. It’s worth a bit of profit.

  12. You mentioned above that your blog is relatively new. I didn’t know that! I’ve seen this happen many times. New visitors, participants, etc., just assume something they see for the first time is old if not ancient, especially if it looks that way. The first time I saw your site (word of mouth on the web), I just assumed that it was something I’d been missing for a long time. Why? First of all the site itself has a very professional polish to it that many others simply don’t have. Congratulations, good taste in design. And it works flawlessly from a users point of view. Second, and this is crucial, your photographs are also outstanding and professional, even if there are some that don’t’ appeal to all of us. I cannot tell you how many photography instructional books I’ve picked up in stores and put back down immediately because the authors’ own photos weren’t very good. Giving advice to others and your own photographs don’t make it? Same with other photography web sites and blogs. I sometimes still visit a blog for the discussion and the quality of reviews, but I could easily just skip the photographs, not the strength of that particular blogger no matter how much he/she loves photography. So, new or not, you start off with two great features that bring us back to see what’s happening. The third, of course, is you highly thought provoking and well written commentaries, again whether we agree with everything or not. I usually do. This is followed by interesting responses from your blog followers. This is not so easy to pull off either. It’s a testamont to the three key features that I already listed. They bring the right people to the site. I’ve had to quit visiting once-favorite sites because of what used to be called trolls, people who just like to pick fights and make mischief. None of that here. You may be doing something to reduce this behind the scenes as well. Finally, I like going to Malaysia for a change. I’ve worked in many other countries but have not visited Malaysia yet. That is where you live, right? A gorgeous place.

    Needless to say, those of us interested in photography benefit greatly from your web site and can only hope that it continues to thrive and (let’s hope) keep it’s blogger just as happy with it.

    • I’ve been up since March 2012. I’d say that’s relatively new chronologically. The impression you get of ‘establishment’ is good: it’s deliberate; I wrote 3-4 posts a day for the first couple of months to fill in the back catalog. The design and aesthetics have changed three times already before reaching their final form; I even changed the fonts twice and I honestly never quite leave the CSS alone, either. Right now, there are 1.7 million words of content in 700 articles and 3,500 accompanying images. On top of that, there are 30,000 comments with a total of about 3.4 million words of content below the line – some of it far more interesting than the main articles they’re attached to! If I were to publish just the main post text alone, it’d be the equivalent of ten paperback novels. Add another twenty novels for the comments. It’s turned into a bit of a monster, I think.

      Photo quality is paramount – whether they’re liked or not is personal preference, but I think everything should be defensible – especially since I’m a working pro first and a writer second; there’s a good chance my clients will see the images here and make judgement – subconscious or otherwise – about the quality of my work. Better not to take risks. And you’re hardly credible if you don’t a) have skin in the game and b) practice what you preach.

      Yes, I live in Malaysia, I even work here some of the time…but really, I go anywhere I’m wanted. I think that’s more of a consequence of internationalization and the reach that one has these days with online media.

      As for the trolls…I do some moderation, but my wonderful reader pool takes mostly care of them in short order. I think they’re intimidated out by the civility and intelligence πŸ™‚

  13. Michael Matthews says:

    Few bloggers understand even the concept of editorial planning. The fact that you are able to project an editorial calendar well into the future and have the discipline to meet your own deadlines puts you into a league far different from the majority. That, coupled with the effort and energy you’re able to muster for the task, suggests this is, in fact, sustainable. Now what’s needed is reward adequate to make sustaining it attractive.

    I have some thoughts on that. I’ll submit them via email, unless you’re so deluged with free advice that you’d rather avoid the added clutter.

    • I ran a magazine for several years as a side project. When it got to the point I was also writing and laying it out myself because the lazy staff didn’t care enough to have a little pride in their work, I quit. The end result of where I wanted to take that magazine became this site – and honestly, I run it far more like a publication than a traditional website, let alone a blog.

      Please feel free to send over your thoughts. Doing something because you want to is probably the most important reason, but I don’t know of anybody who’d complain if they were also paid to do it πŸ™‚

  14. Reblogged this on Genia and her Lot.

  15. Love coming to this website. I’m no pro photographer but you’ve always got something interesting to say and the fact that you captivate me from the first to the last word says a lot. This article was great, insightful and very helpful and I’ll surely be putting it into practise. Thank you.

    P.S. Love your watch photography πŸ˜‰

  16. I totally agree…

  17. David Herman says:

    Mike said you should have a guest host you can trust to take over once in a while…
    I nominate Mike Johnston and Kirk Tuck. πŸ˜‰

    You 3 guys are mandatory reading daily !!!

  18. Nice to get back from my Veteran’s Day photo sessions in Arlington and see a couple of interesting blog posts from you! I thought of you today as I watched a brief youtube video of the recent Bay Area Chamber’s induction of Steve Jobs to their Business Hall of Fame for 2013 and Eddie Cue’s acceptance speech which basically illustrated Steve’s mantra to always be about “doing what you love”.

  19. mcjohnston says:

    Hi Ming, Mike Johnston from “The Online Photographer” here. If I could offer YOU any advice in return, it would be to build in a way to give yourself enough time off…and do so as soon as you reasonably can. One of my readers who has become a friend, Ken Tanaka, a retired financial wunderkind, calls TOP “a bicycle business”: i.e., the minute I stop pedaling, it falls over. I’m eight years into TOP, and still work more than 340 days a year. Even my “day off” is now just a day to get more work done, except with a little less interruption. Burnout LOOMS. I mean it’s like a very nasty timberwolf slinking around behind the woodpile, waiting. If it ever gets me alone, the carnage isn’t going to be pretty…I’ll disappear and turn up six months later as a Hare Krishna, chanting in airports.

    Find a “guest host” who you trust to take over for a week now and then; schedule sabbaticals at regular points throughout the year; something; anything. You got to get away.

    Don’t get me wrong–I love my job, love my readers, love being able to do something I love. (And guys like you take the heat off when it comes to doing reviews…there are so many more people doing that now than when I started that I hardly feel like I need to it myself any more, except when I really want to. Thanks for that.) And hey, it’s an effective way to make OCD into something functional and remunerative. πŸ™‚ But I sure wish I had about as much downtime as Jon Stewart or George W. Bush. I’d last a lot longer.



    • Hey Mike! Really appreciate you dropping by and saying hi – your site has been my daily read for about as long as I can remember, and one of my benchmarks.

      It’s both reassuring and scary to hear you say that. I don’t think it’s a bicycle business; you can prop up the bike for a bit and have a break. I think of it more as a bear business: you’re locked in a room with a hungry polar bear, and some supplies. If you feed the bear, he won’t eat you now. But he might eat you later when you run out of food, and you won’t be able to hold him off. If you feed yourself, then the bear will probably eat you, but you might be able to fight him off. Oh, and you can’t kill the bear, because you happen to like polar bears.

      Reviews: Oh geez. I was thinking the same thing. Aargh!

      I think you of all people probably appreciate most how much work goes into running these sites – and I’d say this is probably about 1/3rd of what I do; I’m still a full time commercial photog during the day. Something will have to give eventually, but right now, I’m going to keep running from the bear. Oh, and I’ll send you an email shortly on an idea I’d like to discuss offline…

      Cheers! MT

  20. Thank you again : )…thought provoking , insightful, and you know what. ?…I look foorward to, and read yr offerings from beginning to end, even when im not sure of what they might be saying sometimes. I figure I’ll eventually get it by osmosis. : ) in gratitude Trees

  21. I get that your gear articles have the most hits, but I suspect it’s your “content/how to/ aesthetic” articles (not sure the right word) that keeps so many of us coming back. And to answer a question you posed earlier, not sure what I would do if you suddenly started charging for access to your site.

    On the other hand, I do believe you should actively seek sponsorship. No one is going to question your integrity if B&H, Adorama or the Malaysian Tourist Board have links on your site. I specifically included the last example because you should really market yourself to organizations that could gain from your audience. My impression is that your audience is an international group of people who are most likely relatively affluent, creative and adventurist. This demographic is desirable to many organizations beyond the photo industry.

    Good luck and keep on doing what you are doing.

    • I agree with Jim: I first came to your site because of a gear review (of what, I can’t remember). I keep coming back because of your other articles.

      I’d also agree on the links to B&H or Adorama. I think that they’re agnostic about gear: if it works, it works. I doubt that they’d try to control your content, and I wouldn’t read a link to their sites as suggesting that you’re tailoring your reviews one way or another.

    • What I see with the gear reviews is that there’s a huge surge of people, but most of the content isn’t to the liking of the majority as few stay; they get washed back out with the tide.

      I suspect – but I probably won’t try it anytime soon – that some will stay, most will go because the modern expectation is that online content is free – regardless of how much work it is to produce.

      As for the Malaysian Tourist Board – sadly, they are more keen to sponsor westerners than their own people. It’s a sad state of affairs in this country that we do not get recognition from our own countrymen; there’s still a strong sense of colonial mentality left in the government halls of power. You’re right about the audience, but wrong about the potential clients in this country. One more reason why I do most of my work outside Malaysia; there is just no appreciation of quality here – only selection on price.

      • It seems to me that selection on price rather than quality is saddening and nearly maddening at times to someone — nearly anyone?? — who desires to produce inherently quality work.

        I’ve no acquaintance with Malaysia and don’t know how it compares but in the US it seems to happen pervasively; consider the numbers who flock to Wal*Mart and have revised their dining from local independent restaurants of yesteryear to “Dollar Menus” today.

        I’m curious how a historian would view this subject if a serious study were undertaken (e.g. does this behavior occur in cycles?). Just quickly thinking about recent history I’m reminded that skilled work hand-building Windsor chairs — some of which have lasted 150 or more years — was virtually killed off in entirety by production of factory chairs of far less beauty and character. If I were in the US, I might prefer to purchase a house that had been built in the 18th or 19th centuries to one built in the 1970’s: the older ones tend to have quality architectural features that disappeared by the 70’s and that virtually no one even considers putting into a home today.

        It sounds rather negative on the surface but personally I haven’t considered enough information and spent the time necessary to form a well thought through opinion about whether it might be positive (even if frustrating) or negative as a generality. I did visit a museum that dealt not with “selection on price,” per se, but rather quality of life. The museum constructed a series of model living quarters depicting quality of life for a “middle” or “average” person over the centuries. As I recall the depictions it was once, essentially, middle-class to own a plate and utensils to eat with. Over the centuries the displays illustrated a process of previously “upper class” items being adapted for production in quantity and introduced into middle-class life. The result was a very, very dramatic improvement in quality of life for large numbers of people (over time). The point was very powerfully made.

        IIRC I felt disappointed to also see a note stating that the present generation may be somewhat unique [among the years/generations considered] in seeing a true decline in quality of life vs the prior generation. I suppose that the widespread, generational drop in quality of life was more disturbing and disappointing to me than modern behaviors towards selection on price.

        • My theory is that the larger businesses are playing a grab and wait game: push smaller players out of their market in order to grow, since there’s only so much upside that’s possible by increasing volume whilst simultaneously reducing price.

          There is only one option for the independents: go upmarket, go bespoke. Flexibility and innovation without too much inertia will forever remain the preserve of the non-corporate – we don’t have to ask our bosses for permission. The tricky bit is connecting with the end customer…

          • Definitely this. But at least social media helps with the connecting part, the aspect many fail to realise though, is that just broad/narrowcasting through these channels will only get you so far, and are probably detrimental – there is more than enough static on the ether as it is, none of us need more. To do it properly they need to engage with their customer/fan base on a human level, as you do MT (though maybe not necessarily to quite the degree you do it!).

  22. For me, it’s quite simple. Yes; your images, although completely different than what i am used to shooting, are ones that call me back to look at them again – they are interesting, and make me curious to ask “how did he do that?”.
    Yes, your site is elegant and beautiful. A template right? I kid, I kid…. :-). Thoughtful and lovely layout. Easy to read and navigate.
    But above all things: your writing is worth it. It is has a very distinct voice that is a pleasure to read. There are reviewers out there with specific content I may be after. One in particular that does a pretty thorough job, and his name is seldom trashed. But his writing is insufferable (not to mention images that don’t seem to add to his authority as a photographer first). Another writer who runs on subscription has images that are slightly more interesting and is a great reviewer, but his writing put me to sleep.
    Let’s put it this way: back in the day when I first started shooting, I would buy photo magazines. Indeed my gear lust steered me towards the ones with the latest reviews. But the images? meh. The writing? meh to terrible. Lenswork was really the only one that stuck with me. Interesting articles and interviews with the artist making the images and their PROCESS.
    I come here for the writing. It makes me wonder, “why aren’t other people writing about their process in shooting?” Could it be they aren’t all that thoughtful about it?

    I’d like to give them them the benefit of the doubt, but for this site, I simply don’t have to.

    • The odd thing with magazines is that the publishers seem to actually want to make them terrible and unreadable, or worse, the same as everything else that’s come before. I tried very hard to change that when I was editor of a magazine here, but I was given the cold shoulder by both publisher and the entire editorial staff, and I eventually left – the magazine put out one more issue with the content I’d written and then promptly collapsed because there was nobody competent left afterwards. (I say they deserve it.) I suppose the site is the proof that my hypothesis worked. But, it doesn’t sell gear, nor does it sell ads.*

      As for whether others think about why they shoot and how they shoot – I have no idea. Given that you see little evolution/ experimentation in work from the blogging crowd, I’m inclined to say no. I do it because a) I take creative development very seriously for both personal and professional work, and b) I can. If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, there’s no way you can improve the process. I suspect as you say, the vast majority don’t think about it at all in the first place.

      *And no, I don’t use a template. It’s a heavily modified custom CSS, custom fonts, custom layout…I take design very seriously, too. I’m in a visual business. All of it has to work symbiotically together, otherwise I’ve failed. It’s not just a personal/ creative outlet, but one more thing that has my name attached to it and therefore might be interpreted by clients as being representative of my work.

      • > As for whether others think about why they shoot and how they shoot – I have no idea. Given that you see little evolution/ experimentation in work from the blogging crowd, I’m inclined to say no.

        This year I’ve tried a little experiment – when I meet other photographers ask them why they take pictures, and what they mean to them. My wedding photographer had some attachment to them but mostly it was a way to make money; for the hulking amateur guys who looked down at me for my gear it was all about winning photo competitions at their camera club (ugh). For one (just one), it was articulated as capturing the emotions and feelings in the scene and ‘bottling’ them to create an emotional reaction in the viewer.

        So let me ask you Ming: why do you shoot? πŸ™‚

        I have to admit I’ve stopped taking photos because I no longer know why I do or what they mean, and have lost my style (when emotional & very unhappy I find a style and produce excellent work. I prefer to be happy!). The world is awash with images now, and people are becoming desensitised to them as the never-ending stream thunders over them. I have started to think the silence of not having a camera and not capturing “these moments” speaks louder than joining the chattering classes.

        What does it mean to make an image, and why do we want to do so? I don’t think most people ask. They just do.

  23. “…creators hitting a productivity wall. There’s only so much you can physically do or produce before it becomes unsustainable and/ or impossible.”

    The first thing I thought when I read this, was you and another post in which you mentioned working 130 hrs. per week. I felt concerned about overwork for you, your health, and any potential burnout risk.

    [Sidebar: At one point I believed that the large number of hours I worked in my youth imparted ‘merit’ but later found that my physical body with more years of wear-and-tear (past peak age) would not sustain the same level of output; does that mean I have less merit now???.]

    All the best to you, Ming.

    • I have no idea, but sometimes I wonder what the long term cost is. That said, it has to be balanced off against uncertainty of the future and opportunities in the now etc…

  24. Excellent article and, in my opinion, you’re killing it, Ming. Doing it as well as it can be done. I’m sure you’re final metric, i.e. revenue / conversion per reader, reflect that. Keep up the great work! It’s addicting!

    • Now you’ve got me curious. Killing it by overanalyzing? Or killing it by something else? Or was that a turn of phrase I misinterpreted?

      • I think this is a relatively modern usage of “kill” as a verb, used in the sense of “to do something extremely well”. You will often hear “killer” as an adjective, as in “that’s a killer song”. Presumably the verb is used in the same way.

        I’m absolutely sure that the above post was intended as high praise!

        • Ah – blame it on the vernacular disconnect πŸ™‚

          To be honest, I wasn’t sure – there have been other thoughts in the comments (which mirror my own) that one can only keep doing it for so long…hence eventual death.

  25. I follow a lot of photo blogs, but almost all of them are blogs by amateurs like me who appear simply to enjoy posting their photos and thoughts about photography, gear, and perhaps life in general. I occasionally visit other blogs by gear reviewers, although I have an idiosyncratic (and perhaps idiotic) approach to purchasing gear. (In fact, my recent gear purchases have all been film cameras, lenses for them, and the like.)

    I come to your blog, MT, because of the following: (a) you take superb photographs; (b) you write very well; and (c) you think clearly. (And I admit that categories (b) and (c) overlap considerably, and category (a) is related to the other two categories. In other words, these are not discrete categories.) I enjoy looking at your photos, and I learn from those photos and from your writing about the gear and craft of photography.

    And I realize that I trust your blog because you are credible. MT, you may have read Aristotle’s work “On Rhetoric.” If so, you will recall that he claimed that the most important means of convincing anyone was the credibility of the speaker. I trust you in part because it is absolutely clear, as you state, that you do this because you enjoy it. Indeed, you clearly love it. That is the most important proof of all.

  26. hi Ming,
    for a while i while i was thinking to mail you something related to this.
    As a huge fan to your “contents”, i always wanted to share your contents with my language-mates (bengali / bangla) by translating myself and post on my site as well as FB photographic communities etc. Specially, the “theoretical” ones. Obviously, that translation would be under cc-nc-sa license with proper reference (a.k.a. linkback) to your original.
    I won’t get paid nor will you (at least, directly).
    is that okay with you?

    // kmonsoor

    • No, sorry, I can’t allow that. There’s simply no way for me to guarantee fidelity of the translation and thus the message could be quite different. I don’t want people to get the wrong impression, intentionally or unintentionally.

  27. lightmonkey says:

    I fully disagree with you…

    “To be a successful site – and the reality is that there’s no way to measure success other than by financial return – I think content is the key; not just random low-quality crap in quantity, but more importantly, quality and uniqueness.”

    ….because there are many “successful” site that are full of crap in quality.

    Not naming names, but they are full of mediocre photos, and half of the layout is occupied by re-printing all of the specs in double-space type. There are more than one of these floating around.

    So this is a thanks for all the actual writing and thoughts you put up – for free! – on the web. Much appreciated by many.

    • Ah, but none of us really know if they’re making money, or if they’re going to last πŸ™‚

      I can write another article, or another fifty. But they don’t have a single one: what happens when there are hundreds of other sites with spec-sheet reprints? Are they going to be able to maintain and build audience (and therefore associated financial return)? Somehow, I don’t think so…

  28. As usual, a thought-provoking post. To me, SEO and clicks and so on might as well be a foreign language, so in the case of my own blog I just upload, publish and leave it. I wouldn’t know how to monetize a blog if a book called “monetizing a blog” came up to me and introduced itself. The weird thing is that some of my posts have had over a hundred visits and some as low as 30. It’s odd, but I have neither the technical competence nor the curiosity to find out why. I always announce a new blog post the same way: Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Then I forget about it, check the “visit” stats now and then out of vanity, and start thinking about the next post.

    Concerning the other well-known blogs / sites out there….well, Ken Rockwell is good for a laugh as long as you remember a pinch of salt with which to take him. I don’t think he takes himself that seriously either. I have found some interesting stuff on his site, mainly concerning film photography. Another site, which I will refrain from naming, is just horrible. The site owner just rambles on about how he is so “passionate” and “crazy” about photography while displaying some truly awful photos (although to be fair there are good ones as well) and the scary herd of followers bleat along about how wonderful everything is. The thing that struck me about your blog and site is (as I said on my very first post on it) that you only allowed well taken shots on there. A higher standard.

    Your willingness to go out of your way to answer as many comments is also most commendable, and the general level of discourse on here is pleasingly high. Sure, it won’t last forever – nothing does – but you will leave behind a site that you can be proud of.

    • Curiously, those two you mention have enormous followings. I cannot figure out why. Perhaps it’s an association thing?

      I do know that there are certain topics that are bound to attract traffic – gear for one – but they also seem to drag down the quality of the discourse. No interesting comments have ever come out of a review, but some of the more philosophical posts yield below the line discussions that far, far outstrip my original post.

      As for image quality: it’s very easy for a client to see my site too; any images that get associated with me should therefore be ones I’m happy with. I’m not going to post poor images – why keep or even shoot them in the first place when we have absolute control over what we show?

      • I have a suspicion the the MJ site is a political cult. He ruthlessly edits comments to serve his ends, which I’ll avoid theorizing on. When he introduced me to that other bipolar (now guest) blogger I momentarily liked his content, then ran screaming away from the train wreck. It’s a kind of DPreview environment – but on a different subculture (pixel peepers vs art snobs?)

  29. Well, I hope the education videos you create, the workshops and email school bring in some financial return. Personally, I’ve bought a couple of your videos and down the track I’ll be a candidate for the email school. Why? Because the quality of your content is absolutely first class! Many thanks for being a major source of information for a hobby photographer, like me.

    • They do, but the per hour ratio is nowhere close to ‘proper’ commercial work. It’s a nice bonus but still very much a labor of love.

      Thanks for the support! One slot left for the email school this month if you’re interested, by the way. I’m not sure when the next intake will be, it depends on when people finish πŸ™‚

  30. Dear Ming,

    I for one have so enjoyed visiting your site, first and foremost because the intellectual/photographic stimulation you provide. I look forward to purchasing some of your videos, and the clarity and objectivity of your equipment reviews are indeed quite remarkable. Last, since I enjoy film so much, I find your “Film Diaries” most rewarding.

  31. Iskabibble says:

    MT, it’s ridiculous how much work you put into this site for no pay. For god’s sake put some ads here. If placed tastefully, NO ONE WILL CARE. You are just giving away your work. For nothing. Hell you could go with a full out paywall and I’m sure you’d STILL have a very nice readership.

    I dont see how you can leave so much money on the table. Saving for old age starts NOW,when you are young.

    I bet few of your readers work for free. I certainly dont and NEVER will.

    • That’s true. It’s even more ridiculous how much rude nonsense I put up with sometimes…

      Would you think my reviews were biased if I ran an ad for a camera company? Would you subscribe if there was a paywall?

      • Leandro Gemetro says:

        After reading you for a year, I don’t think that your moral stance would allow you to write biased reviews man. Go for the ads, you deserve that income. Btw, you can always turn down a company for forcing you to write something that is not.

        • The problem is there’d always be the unspoken implication in the minds of the casual reader that there’s some bias since there’s money involved. And since the sums aren’t big enough to be meaningful, why bother risking integrity (or perceived integrity) – as something that’s even harder to recapture?

          • Leandro Gemetro says:

            That’s a valid point as well but also the casual reader that does not take the job of asses a writer by making a comprehensive reading of several articles, it’s not interested in a serious photographer/writter/thinker but in a so called “internet superstar” “superblogger” that gets a video every 4 days and does not teach you anything but rubbish. Personally if I were you I wouldn’t think so much about “casual” (and shallow) readers, because those kind of readers unfortunately make the quality of the site sometimes.

            And personally, you don’t look like a guy with big hairstyle, abusing every 5 minutes and portraying yourself as a “pro” when you are not!
            Why don’t do a poll between your readers to see what they think? I think they trust you more than you think man.



            • We did a poll about six months ago, actually. The numbers didn’t really make sense; I’d rather not lose the community. I’m in the lucky position of not having to choose, fortunately…

      • Iskabibble says:

        MT: Bias is seen in the content of your articles, not on the presence or lack of ads. No, I would not think you were biased if ads appeared. The only problem I have with ads is how they clutter a site. Look at MacDaily News for a prime example of how horrible ads can be.

        Your content is of high enough quality that I would EASILY consider paying for it. I dont say that about 99% of web sites. I pay for APUG.org and that place doesnt even have a paywall! The content is THAT good.

        Look at Leandro’s reply. I am sure he is VERY typical of your readership. You have generated some enormous goodwill.

        Most of the boneheads wont pay so your abuse factor will go down by several orders of magnitude I suspect.

      • I can honestly say I’d subscribe to a paywall. Any reader here would readily attest that you’re content is better than anything you’d read in a ‘professional’ camera magazine. I’ve grown as much if not more as a photographer visiting your site, practicing your workshop videos, and submitting to the reader portfolio than I have in taking photo classes for which I paid decent money. It shows in my portfolio growth too.

        Maybe I’m wrong, but I think many readers here would consider a paywall as a great option. Just to throw the idea out there, it could even work as dual content like The Wall Street Journal. Provide basic articles that attract initial readership, but generate more revenue through premium content to dedicated subscribers. WSJ even has a similar business approach to that described in this article–produce excellent content and analysis, and make it unique. Their success seems to say it can work.

        Thanks as always and cheers!

        • I ran a poll about six months ago; the numbers didn’t make sense. I’d rather have the community!

          Thanks for the support with the videos – but, imagine what you’d get out of the email school or a full blown workshop πŸ™‚

          • I’ve certainly thought about your email school–though I’d have to admit I’m pretty tempted by the Oly 75mm f/1.8 too. But, if you’re back in the States next year, I’d *have* do a workshop if you’re near Washington DC. My rut is in discovering new ways to capture the same thing (oh, the daily grind). But that’s what makes it fun and challenging.

  32. Very interesting post as always, Ming. Back in 2010 I made some considerations about Blogging from a fine art photographer perspective. Have a look if you wish – link here: http://www.massimocristaldi.com/blog/blogging-with-a-target-is-there-a-tribe-for-fine-art-photographers/. This was also part of an ongoing conversation with Joerg Colberg http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2010/07/more_on_social_networking/.

    Looks like, 3 years later, the debate is still VERY open, with the difference that the overall quality of what you find online is dramatically decreasing…

    • Sadly, anything that’s done in quantity or for free is always going to be rubbish; blogging falls into this category. I don’t think of it as blogging so much as running a one-man publication, which I think is much closer to the way it has to be done in order to maintain any level of quality control and cohesiveness. I plan my editorial skeleton six months out, I’m fully written out for the next two months to deal with variations in schedule and be able to post consistently; I interact with pretty much everyone in the audience who cares seeks it – I doubt frankly anybody else does this – let alone anybody who has another full time job.

      • No, it takes simply too much time. But you should, IMHO, find a why to monetize all this work. The risk you are taking is that, sooner or later, your energies will be drawn and you would have a bad taste in your mouth. Of course I’m NOT wishing you this, but as time goes by, as I saw with myself, you would ask yourself WHY you’re keeping on. The Free “myth” works for bigger corporations, able to monetize somehow, not for single (hard) workers.

        • It isn’t any better if you’re working for a large corporation – been there, done that, right to the top of the pile. If anything, much worse. At least now I can say ‘stop’ anytime I want.

          • Agreed. Doing for a purpose is making a hell of a difference !

          • Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I meant that the “free” model (giving out tools or content for free) works for the giants who can afford it and is normally supported by other revenue channels. Gaining a big “audience”, beside the good effect on the ‘ego’, should be turned into something that could be monetized. This is why most of the (valid) current efforts have adopted paywalls… Why don’t you consider this opportunity?

  33. “you are some kind of lighthouse in the darkness that blogging is regarding photography.”

    I have to chime in with Leo on this and agree. The shifts in my ‘seeing’ are profound since studying your writing, thoughts, ideas and practices. Blogging is hard and long work; I don’t have the attention span and admire those who do. Personally, I reference this site several times per week, particularly before I go out shooting; which is nearly every day. I am so much more satisfied with what I bring home and even more so once I get it into the CC kitchen and start playing… No _one source_ has had a greater influence on my ability to enjoy my favorite hobby than your site, Ming… Nothing even comes close…

    Thank you!

    • Haha, thanks! If you haven’t already tried the videos, you’ll find you probably get even more out…

      • Leandro Gemetro says:

        Ming, lack of money yet (I’m getting married next year, and I don’t want to divorce before that, my future wife would kill me :P), but I would like to go for a workshop. Most of the videos are things that I’ve seen or work with as I’ve been doing street photography for the past two years (as well as architecture and travel), but to share a couple of days with you and some readers sharing experience and idea is something really worth of. Maybe I’ll try with the e-mail course, I have to think about it (and I have to finish paying my D800, SB910, 24-702.8, 80-200 2.8, etc, which has taken me one year and I still have more months to go).
        But you will hear from me Ming!


        • Leandro Gemetro says:

          “Ming, lack of money yet”
          I wanted to say “I don’t have the money yet”

          Forgive me for my terrible english, just came back from 10hs non stop of BS in my “day” job. And english is my second spanish, unless you speak spanish as well!

          Best regards as always.


        • No idea which part of the world you’re in, but I’ll be doing Melbourne, Sydney and London in the first half of next year. Let me know if you’re interested in any one of these.

          • Leo Gemetro says:

            Im residing in Dubai but I travel a lot. London would be a nice and close day. Let me know if you have the dates and cost!



  34. Leo Gemetro says:

    Ming, as I said before, you are some kind of lighthouse in the darkness that blogging is regarding photography. I am seeing an increasing number of “photographers” that their main income is not photography itslef but what they sell to the amateur and wannabe comunity. He whole idea is not wrong, as you say, we’re not into this aiming to do charity, but as a reader and “semi professional” photographer I can’t help thinking if somebody that is not actively working on photography as a profession can give me the knowledge and unbaised opinion I’m looking for. (Not to talk about the complete lack of writting skills that most bloggers have).
    Your skills in writing, your dedication, active interaction and openess to discuss the points of view that you dont share in a mature way speak highly of you! As always, keep the good work!


    Ps: i wish you pass in numbers KR, that guy is a black hole of knowledge more than a lighthouse

  35. Good Evening: I am so glad I follow this blog. Vonn Scott Bair

  36. Thanks for the wonderful blog Ming! Best Wishes – Eric

  37. drbobbybones says:

    Great philosophical points as always, Ming. As the husband of a successful blogger (Oh Joy), I see how much work goes into content creation for each blog post. My wife works almost around the clock, with her “real job” during the day doing design, then at night after our daughter goes to bed doing work on the blog. Vacations are not immune from blog time, and “free time” often takes a back seat as well.

    The biggest positive return her blog has provided for her is a halo effect for all of her other ventures. It has become one of her chief marketing tools, as clients see her work and hire her for her unique design perspective. The blog, plus social media (she is the most followed person on Pinterest) has created a critical mass that continues to feed into itself. At this point, it’s unclear what is actually feeding into what, as all avenues seem to be symbiotic. My wife has been blogging since 2005 and I think it only really started taking a life of its own within the last two or three years. I’m sure to some degree your business is feeling the same effect, or at least beginning to feel it.

    All that said, it is a huge labor of love for her, and for me. I provide a good amount of the photos on the site and I feel some creative release from my somewhat rigid and dogmatic day job as a surgeon. It is refreshing to hear such honesty from your perspective and I hope you continue to engage your readers as much as you do now. I wish you continued success and hope you maintain your unique point of view for your loyal readers.

    • It’s certainly difficult to say what feeds what, but I do know that pro/ commercial work is not really connected to the site at all. I think it’s more of an outlet – creative, visual and via text.

      But yes, it’s pretty much still a labor of love. Long hours, at least 2-3 hours of social media every day on either end of whatever else it is I’m doing, and there are days where the deluge of complaints/ evangelical/ irrational email makes me want to throw in the towel.

  38. Kathleen Bowers says:

    There was an ominous element of wistfulness to the title and tone of your thoughts today that gave me pause. What if on balance you decided that you had reached the point where all of ‘this’ was no longer enriching you creatively enough to continue? Was I reading your last entry? Was this the proverbial ‘it’?

    I imagine the result as a black hole – long, paper thin, and rectangular with interesting horizontal breaks which come at regular though unpredictable intervals noticeable because of the starlight that interrupts the absolute emptiness of the nothing in the space where your words should be. Naturally because you are such an artist, this black hole would have a very stylish gilt frame – the only one of its kind fever seen in space causing a swell of online and off line discussion that snowballs, unfortunately…

    Thank you for making the time to share your thoughts, experiences, and images with us! All of it is appreciated and would be missed! Better images are being made, thanks to you!

    • Don’t worry, it’s not the end – I’ve got an editorial plan into the middle of next year, and I’ve got articles written up until mid-January at this point.

      You know what they say: better to go out with a bang than a whimper. I don’t pretend that this will continue indefinitely – even if I want to do so, I might not be able to sustain it because of the amount of work required – but the end isn’t anywhere near. I’m far too opinionated for that πŸ˜›

  39. David Grossi says:

    Words of wisdom, and good observations. I’ve noticed that one of the things you do on this blog is almost always reply to every comment that your readers leave – the personal touch … it’s a good thing.

    • I try. I reply to the ones that are worth replying to…it eats up a whole amount of time, but in this day and age, personal interaction is rather scarce.

      • But…but…you have not replied to every comment I have ever made!! That….that…means some of them weren’t worth replying to??!!! OMG, I feel so undermined as a human being!! Now where did I put my therapsist’s number…

        Seriously Ming, as always fantastic read, and thought provoking. Interesting to see how the image:text ratio for this particular article is more skewed to text than normal, especially for what is first-and-foremost a photography site. Does it matter? Nope…because you are a great writer, and that aspect of your work stands on its own. I have certainly been able to identify the qualities you have so well described in the article, in this blog, and was immediately struck by the difference between this blog and others of it’s ilk. You both talk-the-talk, and walk-the-walk, and long may both continue MT πŸ™‚

        • Well, some were a bit dead ended – what do you say after ‘Thanks!’ ‘You’re welcome!’ – then? πŸ˜›

          I’ve got a few principles for this site:
          1. Integrity, logic and defensibility of points of view
          2. Where things are subjective, make that clear
          3. Put my money where my mouth is
          4. Keep the standards high: I am the ultimate end client; but we all know that anything that goes on the internet is forever; I don’t want to risk my reputation on a single out-of-context image – it’s very difficult to build a good one, far too easy to destroy.

      • Hmmm … I think you waste your time in answering almost all comments.
        Go and make great photos πŸ™‚

    • David Grossi says:

      See what I mean? πŸ™‚

  40. Gary Kopacek says:

    Ming, thank you, your perspective as a great blogger is valuable and much appreciated. I’m wondering if there is a financial return from this blog resulting from winning some pro jobs that you may not have otherwise gotten? Even if only a small percent of your readers are potential clients, you have an impressive reach at this time. The blog provides awareness and presents your collaborative personality which must surely be valued by clients.

    • Honestly – nope. I’ve never had a client contact me off the back of one of my articles; reality is that my audience is composed of people who’d probably do the job themselves rather than contract somebody in.

  41. What? 4 days to review a camera? You should contact Mr. Rockwell, he can review equipments before it gets in his hands!!!! In all seriousness, I think your website is the most content rich website on photography. Especially in terms of quality, I look at it it terms of intellectual stimulus, the depth and criticalness in the writing is more than superb.

    Your website have given me a different perspective and greater understanding about photography than any other website…(Rockwell included…heh!)

    Great job and greatly appreciated all of your effort!

    • Well, there’s a blogger review, and there’s a meaningful one where you’ve actually tried to maximize the potential of the equipment. I think very, very few ‘photographers’ online – if any – manage to get there. The sample pictures used to illustrate the ‘review’ should say it all, really. πŸ™‚

  42. Ron Scubadiver says:

    Ming, food for thought as always. There is a global issue now about how the web and mobile phone technology is destroying privacy. It flew under the radar for a long time until the NSA spying thing broke. More locally, there was a recent major change in the WordPress.Com reader where rather than directing users to the original blog post now provides a popup summary of the post. Automatic claims it was done to be more mobile friendly, but I think it was motivated by trying to save bandwidth and a future plan to to load up the reader with dreaded targeted advertising. This is a major move of the cheese, and lots of people are upset.

    It is amazing how many people are producing web content. Hundreds of millions. I try to publish good content, and hope it does not get lost in the confusion. What amazes me is my best followers are non photographer visual artists and fans of travel photography. I guess most other photographers are too busy doing their own thing. Creativity is a drug, please renew my prescription Dr. Ming.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised; that said, WP is already charging us to keep ads off the site – I discovered this the hard way some months back when a reader asked why I was advertising geriatric stairlifts…

      Certainly there are only so many hours in a day. And as much as I’d like to spend time consuming content, then there’d be no time to create it – always a tradeoff!

      • Ron Scubadiver says:

        I am paying to be ad free also. If they direct content consumers away from the original blog post then the part of the revenue stream generated from going ad free, custom CSS and premium themes will be lost. They will have to make it up somewhere.

        • I’m paying for a whole bunch of other things too, but that’s besides the point I suppose…

          • I’m obviously ignorant, but you say above “WP is already charging us to keep ads off the site…” Can you elaborate?

            • Once your traffic passes a certain threshold, WP starts inserting ads all over the place – between posts, at the end of posts, in sidebars…you have no control over these ads, nor do you get any revenue from them. You have to pay for a ‘premium package’ in order to remain ad-free.

              • Ron Scubadiver says:

                Ming, I must have hit that threshold the first month. It got worse over time, and finally I broke down and parted with the $30 annual fee.

                • You know what they say about ‘if I had a dollar for every…’

                  Actually, if I had a dollar for every regular reader every month, I’d make about two mil a year in subscription fees alone. Now the question is how to convince those readers: surely something you enjoy that much is worth a cup of (average grade) coffee a month?

                  • Ron Scubadiver says:

                    Ming, a lot of people want to know the answer to that question. I get decent traffic, but it is nothing like what you have. Ask Lloyd Chambers…

                    • There is no question you take a significant hit in volume once the paywall goes up, so those numbers are silly. And other than via Alexa, I’m probably the only writer who reveals his stats publicly – because it isn’t my day job, and quantity of readership is no substitute for quality πŸ˜‰

                    • Ron Scubadiver says:

                      That last sentence says volumes.

                  • The public radio stations here have the same kind of problem: if the majority of their listeners tossed in a dollar every month, they’d never have to do their triannual pledge drives (when there’s not much music content, and mostly the DJs asking you to give for about a week). Some small minority of their listeners support the station at a disproportionate rate for the vast majority who listen to it. Same deal with Wikipedia, too.

                    They use similar framing terms too: for the cost of your daily coffee, etc. And it’s not that all of these people want to be free riders, either. NPR here runs a cute and true story by Ira Glass of This American Life during pledge week about a guy who promises to pledge something, and then gets around to it months or years later. People just forget or end up taking it for granted.

                    • Hmm, that strategy isn’t going to work then…

                    • Sorry, that wasn’t meant to discourage you from trying that. Your readers may be more amenable to it since there is 2-way communication here rather than the 1-way of a radio station that’s often only used as background filler.

                    • I have to be honest: the numbers from the last poll I did here on the subject didn’t make sense; I’d rather the site continue to have the same quality of readership and community. But, if the idiot quota gets too high, I might be forced to consider it. Or, stop reviewing gear. πŸ™‚

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