The Q&A post: answers, part II

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Gratuitously painterly header image.

Continued from part one. Read on…

Bill Yuey: Hi Ming, I noticed your photos have a certain ‘pop’ to them. A combination contrast, color that separates the subject from the background. Can you describe briefly how you do that?

This is not at all a simple question. Half of it is in awareness of light, half of it is in postprocessing. There’s the Outstanding Images workshop video series, and Photoshop Workflow II.

Tony Corocher: A bit of a strange question. I would like to know if there is an analog Olympus camera that could use the lenses from the OMD micro 4/3 system or if there is a way of doing that keeping good quality. I own an EM5 and an EM1 and would really like to get an analog body to go with them.
Not physically possible because M4/3 lenses have a much shorter flange distance than film, and moreover won’t cover 24×36. On top of that, they’re fully electronic and run according to a new protocol – and many require heavy software correction, which obviously doesn’t fly with film.

Martin Irwin: Do you ever regret maintaining a blog?
There are definitely times when I wish I had more free time – this site eats easily 5-6 hours a day, every day, even when I’m on a shoot that might be running dawn to dusk – and there are elements of the audience who are rude and demand increasingly more – but fortunately that’s more than offset by the great people I’ve met through the site. For the amount of time and effort required to do it properly, I don’t think it’s worthwhile for marketing mileage though.

Jim Austin: MT, When you are consciously envisioning an idea before capture, what are the 4 main sources of previsualized ideas, other than the subject in front of you. I am not referring to categories we carry in our minds of themes, but other, more subtle influences on the development of image ideas…
I’d actually say the quality of light is far more important than the subject; whether you’re trying to make use of what already exists or you’re creating something to fit a mood you have is another thing entirely. For client work, there’s usually a theme, brief or corporate identity they want to maintain. For personal work, I usually have some sort of ‘general idea’ which I then try to break down into something more specific – it might be ‘the idea of Prague’ or ‘warm cinematic evening’ or ‘stark geometry’. At other times it’s around a specific element I want to work with – long exposures, or shifting, for instance. Sorry, it’s not really four…

Richard Barbour: In your video lessons, why do you use Transform/Distort to straighten your photos? I had always used the Ruler tool with Rotate/Arbitrary in the past, but now PS has a Straighten function in the Crop tool, and ACR has a Straighten function also. None of these functions stretches the photo like Distort does. Thanks.
That’s not quite accurate. They all have to stretch the photo – otherwise where does the extra information come from? The other tools are worse because they stretch and then scale up or crop, so you’re losing more information. Besides, it’s easier just to pull the corners straight.

beuler: What is your opinion of Bruce Lee.
Don’t have one.

Pat Gordon: Ming, Not a question, but a statement.
You are a very brave soul!
I enjoy your articles, Keep up the good work.

Haha, thank you. I think the minute you put anything on the internet that doesn’t go with popular opinion, you’re basically inviting trolls, flamers, and every other sort of person who has no life outside their keyboard. Masochistic is probably more accurate than brave…

Luke Johnston: (1) How the hell did you earn a Masters degree in your teens? That’s astonishing.
(2) You’ve had a Lightroom video marked as underdevelopment in your teaching store for quite sometime. Is it ever going to happen?

1) I’m not the only one by any means. Long story.
2) We keep wanting to do it, but every time I try, it never happens because I’m never happy with the results.

Meredith Scott Wood: Hi Ming. I’m late to the party in discovering you but I like your blog & appreciate your knowledge of photography as well as your images. Recently, I’ve sent you a number of email comments on various topics and, as you may see I’m lucky enough to have sufficient funds to buy pretty much any camera or lens I want. I got into optics as a child having grown up with a fascination with astronomy and I have ground and polished many lenses and mirrors for telescopes. Hence, my love of optics led naturally to photography and my fine art specialty is high altitude mountaineering photography—e.g. Himalayas, Andes, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan etc.
Anyway after all this BS, my question: I judge lens quality empirically not only by making large prints but also by observing modulation transfer function curves. Most lens manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon, Leica, Zeiss, Schneider, & Rodenstock et al publish these. In my opinion, MTF curves, if they’re honest, are the gold standard of lens quality measurement second only to observing large prints. Having recently acquired a Pentax 645Z system and a number of lenses, my 30 inch and larger prints taken with Pentax’s most recent lenses would seem to indicate high quality yet MTF curves for Pentax lenses are nowhere to be found. What gives with them?? Ricoh doesn’t return my inquiries regarding this. They probably think I’m an egghead which is likely true.

Firstly, there are MTF curves and there are MTF curves: some are theoretical (C, N, L) and others are actually measured (Z). Pentax isn’t responsive to me either, unfortunately. But I can say that I’ve seen quite a lot of sample variation in some of their lenses like the 25/4…so I would still look to try several samples if possible.

Adrian Ferre: Suggestions for making architecture photography less like product photography? Or is that inevitable given the subject matter?
It’s actually inevitable given the clients; anything more humanising tends to take the focus away from the building, which then shifts it towards documentary. It’s an interesting though, but I’ve not found a way, personally.

Leonard Hobbs: Assuming advanced amateur.
In a position where it is no longer possible to purchase new equipment every year or even two years or even three years
Would rarely print outside of 8 x 10 or 16 x 20 are thereabouts.
Given the imitations, the camera/lens combo, that will render the best output with enough latitude for some advanced enhancement in Photoshop.
I do not want to dilute the question but I am fond of B & W and will be downloading your Monochrome Masters Class soon.
Q. For whatever reason if you had to choose one camera, one fixed and one zoom lens, and this combination would be your only combination you would use for the next 3 years, what would it be?

The first part of the question is relevant because it actually takes the focus away from gear. You need a tool that isn’t limiting (most of the current stuff) and fulfils a certain range of needs (again, most of the current stuff). Technicalities aren’t going to be the limitation at this point, deployment and technique are. We made nice 16x20s with the 12MP FF cameras, and even the entry level 24MP APSC cameras have significantly better image quality now. So the answer to that is really pick whatever works for you ergonomically and haptically, unless you need to fill some very specific needs. This might be M4/3 or 1″ and a tripod or a D810; I have no idea because I know it’s possible to make satisfying images with all of them.
The second part of the question is one of those academic ones that isn’t going to happen, and therefore has no meaningful answer…

Stephen: how work you rate zeiss lens quality in general,compared to Leica lens?
The Zeisses are every bit the equal of the Leicas in resolving power, and in some respects like flare control and price, much better. I’ve never had to return a Zeiss lens because of mechanical or optical defects, but I’ve had new Leica lenses where the rear elements have separated, obvious astigmatism has occurred, or aperture blades have fallen off. For the price…simply not good enough.

Ludovic Bruge: I am French and my English is not very good, but I want to tell you that your website is really great, and I read your articles/review very often.
I do photography for a long time as an amateur, but gradually, I use more my iphone like device. So my question is : can you make a tutorial (even paid) to explain how you treat your files from your iPhone (in color and black and white), which I always find very successful ?
Maybe you’ll have other demands in this direction.
I work under Lightroom, but I imagine that the approach should not be very far for a work in Photoshop.

Thank you. I just put the files through the same workflow as every other file – you can open JPEG files in ACR/PS and have access to the same adjustments as RAW files, but with just a bit less latitude. That’s covered extensively in the Photoshop videos

Dave Terk: Love your site and your photography! I’ll have to sign up for one of your workshops one day.
So here is my question.
If you were going to Greek Islands, The south of Spain and Rome over a 4 week period on vacation what would you pack in your camera bag?

That would depend if I’m going on a vacation with my family or a personal shooting trip or a workshop. The first demands something light and unobtrusive, so probably a GR. The second depends on my objectives, and would probably be the same thing I always pack for these trips – a D810 and a spare, three PCEs, 55/85 Otuses, the 180 APO, ND filters and a tripod. For a workshop, what am I teaching? At minimum, a D810, 24-120/4 and tripod. The aim is always to cover as much of the envelope you can reasonably access* as possible with the least weight…always match the hardware to the objectives.
*You’re not going to be doing much photography with your wife and a newborn, but you’re probably not going to do much else if you’re on your own and just shooting.

John Moore: I really like the way you process your color and BW pictures. Can you tell me which videos I need to buy to be able to process the pictures like you. Thanks
Easy! The fundamentals are covered by Intro to PS Workflow and PS Workflow II. There’s the Monochrome Masterclass for a deep dive into B&W, and Outstanding Images 5: Processing for Style to explore different looks. There’s also a bundle pack for all of these. Remember also that you can only process to enhance what exists from the initial capture, not put back in elements that are missing (e.g. creating shadows)…

Alexander Erk: Could you please tell us a bit more about your analog workflow. developing, scanning/digitizing, Photoshop …
The reason I’ve never talked about this in detail before is because unlike digital workflow, there are a lot of variables that can hugely influence the outcome but aren’t easy to control. For instance, you may not be able to get the same developer or film, and the look will depend hugely on time which depends on water temperature…and in the tropics, water comes out of the tap at 27C. Maintaining say an accurate and constant 18C is nearly impossible, especially for extended periods. There’s also a limitation in the scanning process, which affects the file you start with and the workflow required to get to a given end result. Using a scanner instead of a camera, or different illumination, or a different camera, will all change the steps considerably. But, for what it’s worth:
– Shoot to expose for final output luminance – not ETTR. I use Fuji Acros rated at 100.
– Develop in Ilford DDX 1+8 for 10min at 26C, with 30s of initial slow agitation then 5s of agitation every 30s.
– Wash and fix with Ilford Rapid Fixer for 7min.
– Rinse with Ilfotol.
– Dry in an air-conditioned room.
– Scan immediately with a D800E and macro lens on a custom rig to hold film and camera planar on top of a lightbox containing a flash. Exposure for this is ETTR just to the point of clipping.
– Straighten and normalise negatives in ACR; minimal exposure adjustments because almost nothing ever clips.
– Invert, curve and dodge and burn to taste in PS.

Ricardo Rullan: Hi , im from Argentina , my question is what Leica do you prefer(by image quality) m240 or m9 ? Thanks you
Neither. For the price of just the body, I’d rather have a D810 and a Zeiss Otus. Image quality of both is frankly pretty poor by modern standards and not much better than the entry level $500 DSLRs. I don’t have the luxury of money to spend on a camera that does not deliver results.

Gregory Lewis: Can Ektar scans converted to monochrome recreate similar tonalities to traditional B&W films?
Seeing as we can convert digital color to pretty much any genre of digital B&W we prefer, I don’t see why not. But the question is really ‘why’, since it would be a lot of work and you can still get traditional B&W film…

James Robertson: In 2006 I bought a Nikon D70s with a 6 MP CCD sensor. I’ve shot thousands of images with it and captured a lot of great family memories. A couple of months ago I picked up a factory refurbished Nikon Coolpix A for $329. The Coolpix A has a 16 MP CMOS sensor. When the Coolpix A arrived, I immediately took both cameras out and shot the same landscape scene with an 18 mm lens on the D70s to match the 18 mm Coolpix A. Then I went home and developed the Raw files in Lightroom.
Two things were immediately apparent. 1) The greater resolution of the Coolpix A was obvious, and 2) the colors were different, which I expected, since the images were captured with different sensors, CCD versus CMOS.
After lots of work in Lightroom, I came to the conclusion that I like the CCD colors better than the CMOS. So now I’m stuck. I really want the higher resolution of the Coolpix A, but I like the colors of the D70s. Here is my question:
Is there any way to match the Coolpix A colors to the D70s colors?
Thanks for all the great work you’ve done on your site.

You can match color fairly easily, but not necessarily tonal response – and I suspect it’s the latter (relationship between input and output color and luminance) that’s the bit you really like. The latter is a physical property of the sensor/electronics combination. For the former, you just need to do the following:
1. Shoot a color checker card with the D70s using a flash – ideally one you can also use on the A to ensure consistent color temperature and spectrum. Set manual WB to 5000K.
2. Do the same with the A.
3. Take both files into ACR, and move the sliders on the HSL tab of the A until the file matches the D70s.
4. Save this as a preset or default.
That should get you halfway there for when you next open a file; as I said before, there’s no easy way to match tonal response though.

Gordon Moat: Wondering whether you have considered trying another art form, or a different creative profession (graphic design, et al)? I would be curious to know your reasoning too.
I used to design mechanical watches both as a consultant to some of the big brands and as an independent. I’ve done (and still do occasionally) graphic design and layout for existing clients. I’d love to do industrial design, but don’t have the time or money for the formal training (there is nothing respectable locally that would actually get you a job afterwards) and it’s a bit late at this point to start a new career from zero again – though given the state of the photography market, there may not be a choice.

ioojimooi: 1. how did you plan and deploy your career migration – from a well-paid / stable position in an international firm to the current “all-on-your-own” business? any struggles? any discouraging words / experience you’ve battled with?
2. do you believe in the existence of ghosts? if you do, do you think camera can capture them? do you have any experience in the encounter with them…?….

1. Mostly, covered here. There was not much planning – just a huge amount of frustration with the lack of integrity or principles in the companies I worked for, bosses who didn’t care and prioritised ‘showing face’ over results, colleagues who backstabbed and spread rumours to make themselves look good instead of actually trying to perform better…I’m sure this is not news to anybody. I got tired of the politics and pettiness and had to leave. Struggles? All the time. You never know when you are going to have a zero revenue month, so everybody thinks you’re always stingy – but the reality is you have to be cautious and protect cash-flow otherwise you will be dead. Everything that used to be done by somebody else – administration, accounting/finance, marketing, even booking your flights – now has to be handled by yourself, on top of doing the actual work. I would say don’t do it unless you can afford to take the risk and you’re almost certain you have some angle to play that hasn’t been done before – and the market understands it. You cannot sell diamonds to people who don’t know what diamonds are.
2. Yes, no and yes in that order.

figtree23: If you have ever taken a photo of a person or animal where you needed to, and found, the compassion in their eyes, the connection necessary to take a great photo at a moment of their weakness, how have you found it possible to maintain the distance necessary to not intervene to help them.
I understand most of your previous work has not been of this type, so if you can speak hypothetically about this. I have found the pictures coming out of Nepal and a multitude of other disasters to be so upsetting now that I have a daughter.

Actually, I started off as a photojournalist. I left for two reasons: one, you just see misery and it really gets to you; two, you can’t make a decent living and soon you too will be one of those who needs the pity of others. There is a very fine line here: sharing weakness/emotion to draw attention to suffering to help is different from the exploitative sort of ‘street photography’ people do involving homeless people because they are easy targets. If you do your job properly as a photojournalist, you are helping. Anything else and you are part of the system that created the problem. Is it possible to be objective and distant? No, because then you yourself are not receptive and cannot communicate what you don’t see or understand.

Mark Williams: Given that still images are rarely printed but instead displayed electronically, for folks who have no requirement to print, do you see any reason at all anymore to own medium format digital, or even a super high res DSLR?
Good question. High resolution, no; larger format, yes – you still have more depth of field control and better image quality. That said, the relative definition of ‘high’ resolution may change as electronic display media increase in density – on a 4K screen with oversampling, you will see a noticeable difference between an 8MP image and a 16MP one downscaled…so I suppose that too is a moving bar.

Eric: What’s your opinion in regards to why Canon/Nikon have such a difficult time designing a better “mouse trap” in terms of the next generation of camera?
Other than higher megapixels, camera design (IMHO) seems to have stalled since the D3/D700 days. Sure, the best cameras, such as the D810, are more than sufficient for the average use; however, ease of use, improved dynamic range, and smaller size seem to have taken a back seat.
What would your “ideal camera” specification set(s) be? Tks.

Quite simply, a lack of imagination and a very restrictive corporate culture. Even dealing with their rep offices, media liaisons etc. are worse than having your teeth pulled out with pliers. Is it no surprise they have no clue what customers actually want since they never listen? As for ‘ideal spec’, it’s a moving target dependent on technology. As usual we do the best we can with what we’ve got…

Leo: What are your thoughts on VSCO Film presets? Do you think they alter the colour too much or too instagram for you? Or do you think they are good simulation of film, despite difference between CMOS and film sensitivity?
Firstly, presets mean outsourcing creative control to somebody else. Why would you do that? Secondly, if you’ve tried to develop film yourself, you’ll know there is no such thing as a specific ‘look’ – it depends entirely on how you develop and scan, so the whole concept of a preset is meaningless branding nonsense anyway.

Yi Yung Yu: In your earlier review of the Nikon 85mm f1.4g lens, you stated that this lens was not as sharp when used with the D800 body than the D700 body . Is this statement also true with the D810?
Yes. The lens lacks the resolving power and CA control for the 36MP bodies below f2.8, and if you can’t use it wide open, why pay for f1.4?

Eric Hanson: I think a really cool article would be Lens Choices for the D810 OR Nikon mount APO lenses.
The articles I would really like to see is one on How To shoot with your IPhone. Or an article on product photography 🙂

The first is already done – there are only really a small number of choices – the Zeiss Otuses, the 2/135 APO, the Voigtlander APOs, the Sigma APO Macros – and most of them are on the recommended gear list. The second is much harder than it appears, because it’s no longer about shooting and more about understanding a) light b) composition with a moderately wide lens and c) understanding the strengths and restrictions of a small sensor. As for product photography…that’s covered too, in this (and possibly others I forget) On Assignment and this series on lighting watches.

hhoinam: Firstly thank you very much for your shared contents with everyone via your website, I believe it inspires many of us (including me of course) with photography.
My question has 2 parts:
1. When and how did you first get introduced to photography?
2. When and how did you turn into a photography career as what you are doing and as a photographer, how does photography mean to you (i.e. earning for the living, passion, fulfillment of something..)

1. Not counting the usual ‘family snapshots’ at birthday parties, events and the like – I’d say it started properly while I was at university and wanted to record my experiences. I got sucked into cheap and small and landed up with APS film, which was a disaster – but it was a fun experiment and at least got me shooting. Digital didn’t follow til a couple of years later with one of the early Sony point and shoots. As they say, the rest is history.
2. Answered in this post. Photography is a passion and the fulfilment of a need to create. It is an exceptionally poor way of earning a living, as every professional will tell you. 🙂

Carlos Irineu da Costa: You have said more than once that LR was “not suitable” for RAW processing due to some oddity about color handling during conversion. However, to the best of my knowledge, the LR engine is exactly the same as Adobe’s really dumb and awful looking ACR engine. Therefore, I can see no advantage in using one or the other, except one can make sense of LR while ACR is just bad, lousy, inconsistent programming with one of the worst UI ever seen on recent years.
If you care to comment on this, I’d take the occasion to ask you why does in-camera WB matter at all. Again, a RAW file should be just data: RAW sensor data, and the WB should be written as a text tag directing the subsequent “interpreter” program to use certain parameters.
I have read countless discussions on the subject both on Luminous Landscapes and on the never ending forums of Photo Stack Exchange. I haven’t yet read a single argument that would make me believe it’s important to set the WB while shooting, except if one does care for a reference and, given your known disregard for camera LEDs, which I share to some extent, shouldn’t really count.
I’m not asking this as a teaser question or in search of yet another useless debate, but because I trust your opinions, and yet I can find no technical basis for this one. Please note that I haven’t found YOUR technical basis either, I’ve just read short statements in some of your posts.

I am assuming you have read this post. It isn’t so much ACR vs LR as PS vs LR, and LR’s extremely poor handling of dodging and burning and curves for starters already makes it a no go. As for WB and RAW when shooting: it matters only so you know when a channel is clipped or not since the preview histogram won’t be accurate. Additionally, some channel amplification is handled in hardware upstream of the ADC (depends on camera) so for extremely warm or cool ambient temperatures, which means if you’re very clipped the image may not be recoverable afterwards – or may land up being underexposed.

Jethro: Have you ever reached a period where you got bored in photography? Both professionally and personally. If so, how did you overcome it?
More often than you might think. If personally, then a break usually cures it; either from the usual subject matter or from shooting for a week or so. The urge to make images comes back. Professionally, again: more often than you might think. Especially working in this part of the world, there is very little creative freedom and clients often will insist on having things their way even if it is not suitable for their product, or just say ‘copy this’. I close one eye and remember that it’s still much better than being paid to make powerpoint slides. 🙂

P.: I have been thinking about black and white photographs a lot. Do you think they have a sense these days? Or do you thing BW photography rather belongs to photography books…?
Also, what is your attitude/opinion towards pinhole/lomo camera craze? I mean, both real analog lomography and purely digital photos produced in variate of photo filters making them look like pinhole photos…. Do you think people are just bored of their super sharp photos and seeks for something different?

Nothing wrong with monochrome photography. If it suits the subject and the objective, why not? As for Lomo and the like – I don’t see the point of introducing additional aberrations into your images, because it means that the aberrations dominate the look and feel more than the content. You only need distractions and gimmicks like that to hide a weak idea or poor shot discipline.

Bob: What other interesting things have you done besides photography?
I suppose it really depends what you define as interesting! I’ve flown a 767, designed some watches, was involved in Formula One for a while, graduated from Oxford at 16…

Philipp Guenther: what do you carry in your bag on a casual stroll around in any town of the world?
A good book?
Bottle of water?
Do you lug various cameras around or do you plan to go shooting somewhere and then equip especially for that plan?

As little as possible, actually – I prefer to keep weight to an absolute minimum because it isn’t fun being a pack horse. If I’m at home or in a familiar location, then it’s just the camera, a lens or two, wallet, phone, keys, pocket knife, watch. Most of the time that goes into my pockets and there is no bag. If I need to take notes, I have the phone. A book isn’t necessary since my purpose is presumably to shoot and not to read. Water is purchasable, but I prefer (and need) coffee – which is of course best fresh 🙂 On location, it really depends on the objective – as you suggested, I have a plan and then equip for the plan. Otherwise, I could land up shooting everything and anything and just lose focus or be frustrated because I didn’t bring a tripod (or brought a tripod and it got in the way, etc.). The only other ‘standard item’ that sometimes makes it in is spare batteries/ cards for an extended session, and a passport if overseas.

Nick Coenen: A human dimension rather than a gear or technique question per se (I’m still re-reading the first 1000 posts….) But, considering photography as an art form, what project (commercial or personal) caused you the greatest challenge – not so much from a technical standpoint (although that would be of interest), but from an emotional standpoint. Anything that enveloped you to the point that took you completely by surprise?
Background – you obviously devote great emphasis on detail as well as being prepared for all contingencies. The gist of the question centers on the unexpected; how some emotional aspect of a project – either the subject matter or the personalities involved (not including examples of the “difficult client”) – caught you off guard, how you responded, and whether or not you were satisfied with results.
Interesting topic – thanks for your willingness to share your knowledge and experience.

I can’t say there have been any that were completely unexpected – if you’re assigned to shoot a protest you know what to expect, for instance. I’ve had some physically very challenging jobs where I was on location in 50C heat and 100% humidity underground for 14 hours carrying 15kg of gear for several days – this is probably more than the workers had to endure – by the end of it, I was just about ready to pass out. There have been other assignments where the time factor was the biggest challenge – simply not enough time to shoot or things breaking or poor weather. I actually think the most frustrating/ challenging assignments aren’t so much the difficult clients as the ones who really believe that copying another style or their own ideas fit their product best, but aren’t suited at all. You know that if you go along with their demands, they will be unhappy afterwards because the results will look bad, and if you don’t, they’ll be unhappy because you didn’t listen. It’s a creative problem and a communication one more than anything. The only solution is to somehow shoot both – effectively doing the job twice – and hoping that one will both hit the mark and keep the client happy.

Flo: How do you remove dust from the 645Z?
I never needed to because it has an ultrasonic sensor cleaning element. Though I’d imagine you could just wet clean it in the same way as any other DSLR if need be.

Talia: What is your most used focal lengths?
Counting every subject, it seems to be an even spread between 24-28mm and 85mm.

Bryan Gonzalvo: I love photography and wish it was my profession but the reality is that it is difficult to make a good living as one. As a percentage, I would venture to guess that only the top 5-10% are actually making a good living. As a father to two kids, my time to try to venture into a photography business has passed.
I was wondering how you feel about your photography business now that you have a child. Have you a set a certain financial expectation that, if not met, would make you change careers? Over the years since you first started professionally, have you been able to increase your income from year-over-year?
Your site is appealing not because of how much I learn from you or from the great photographs you share, but also because I find that you are very rational person who focuses on something and then goes all the way until something is unfulfilled. Someone of your background and success and need for fulfillment could change to a more lucrative career, so I am curious as to where you see yourself in 1 or 2 years now that you have a child.
One other question out of curiosity… If you photography was no longer your career, would you still be shooting with a D810? If not, what would be your camera of choice for family/travel? Due to your review and images, my family camera is the E-M1 and E-M5 for weight. It got heavy carrying a D700/24-70 AND baby AND a diaper bag!!
Thanks for all that you do for the photography community!

It gets harder and harder every year: clients expect more for less, inflation makes the cost of living go up, people online expect more reviews which take time and cost money, and camera companies will only work with you if you are willing to be a brand shill. I would say I’ve been running a little better than break even for the last three years, which is probably extremely good by photography standards but nowhere close to what I used to earn. It decreases a bit every year – not because of volume, but because of market price pressure – and is not far off not being worth doing anymore. I already had almost no more time left to give before I became a father, and it seems increasingly that SE Asia is really the wrong part of the world to be a photographer – the market never matured before the bottom was pulled out by $100 day rates and DSLR-toting newbies masquerading as pros and uneducated clients believing them. I would like to still be doing this in two years, but the reality is it is unlikely. I’ll miss the variety and actually seeing a project come to a tangible conclusion, though. At that point, if photography is not my career, I probably won’t be carrying or owning a camera at all – you’re right, I’ll go all out until I can’t go any further.

Mathieu P: As I’m a young father (my son has 10 month now), I’d like to know what is your best suggestion “to rise” a child on a photographic point of view ? Rise word seems too strong, it’s more how to pass on the passion. I have my ideas but I let the question open. And perhaps, as it seems you are now a father too (congrats to your wife and you!) you probably have starting to think about it too.
Can you provide suggestion from birth to 18 ? I’m joking.
Best regards and keep the good job with your website and photos !

Thanks. I don’t think you can really force anybody to do anything with passion – it has to develop internally. All you can do is leave the door open, display some tantalising things on the other side, and hope they walk through it – then be there to support them if they do. Ask me again in ten years, maybe i can give you a better answer then…

Daniel Brielmayer: After reading your review of Nick Brandt’s book here, I wonder if you would consider going on safari and testing your skills photographing wildlife?
I was a birder for many years. Honestly, I got bored…

Tom Bruno: Hello, Ming. Love your website. This is a great opportunity, to ask you questions. Here’s mine:
What do you do for disc storage? Since I bought a D800 and then a D610, my discs are vanishing. I’ve just burned through 8 TB, and am about to pay several thousand dollars — more than the cost of a new professional camera — for a 24 TB backup array, plus a primary 24 TB disc array. RAID systems can crash and burn, you need two. At the rate I’m going, I’ll need even more TB before long. It looks like high-res files, with even a few layers in Photoshop CC, are very expensive in terms of disc storage. My D200 files were small and easy. “Digital film” is not nearly “free.”
So, do you use Photoshop? Do you save layered files? How big are your PSD files? (Mine are 1.5 – 2 GB each. And thousands of edited files, plus raw originals.) Do you have the nerve to flatten the PSD files to save storage space, or do you, like me, want the option of re-editing them as layered files?
Any insights from a seasoned pro like yourself would be of great help.

Yes, I use PS for every file, but I don’t save intermediate states – only the raw file and the edited file, because I know I have enough experience to easily get back to the edited file in a minute or two. If it’s a client file with a lot of intermediate edits – e.g. product compositing or retouching – then I will keep the PSD for easy amendments because they inevitably happen. I have the main catalog on two 16TB arrays and other assorted storage, with a total of about 11TB used for the complete body of work and close to a million files in total. It seems to me you may want to be a little more judicious about what you keep – how often have you gone back to make re-edits? You could probably save a lot of space straight off the bat by deleting intermediate PSD files that you haven’t touched in years. I personally find that going back and re-editing almost never yields better results because your vision then would be different to now, and you have a mismatched starting point in terms of information and composition. If we have the time, that is…

Leon Roy: A favoured city/country you’d like to live in? Why?
Lorenz Flückiger: My friends and I are following your site since the beginning. Your ultraprints are a most inspiring decoration, hanging from our walls. The questions, suggestions:
1) Developing photographic skills, evolution as a photographer
Can photographic and artistic skill be found solely within oneself by an intellectual, self teaching way, as you seem to have done? Was there at all external influence? And if there was, to what extend did the personality or work of other photographers inspire or influence your path? At which point did you come to a crossroads felling the need of “defining you own style”? See question 4)
2) The future
How do you see your path and your future as a photographer? Do you see a possibility for quality work and inspiring articles (notably free!) as you did till now?
3) Is there a “market” for ultraprints? Will they remain a “Ming Thein speciality” or do you see more possibilities for high quality printing besides FineArtPrints?
4) I found the books of Ansel Adams, Bruce Barnbaum (well seasoned professionals) and George Barr (an engaged amateur) inspiring. The books sell between 40-70 USD in Switzerland and I consider this affordable.
Can you think again of producing a book? It must not necessarily be an artistic one but your technical insight could easily fill a very fine and inspiring textbook on technical aspect of photography if print quality is an issue. Or is there no market for high quality education?
Where do you see your work in relation to those photographers, or do you generally abstain from such comparisons?
5) Did you ever consider moving, living into another country? Which one? Why?
6) What common factors, personality or origin do photographers have you consider inspiring? And/or what factors can hamper a photographers artistic forthcoming?
7) Where do you see the position or role of the truly dedicated amateur photographer? (Almost everyone on the net is a “Pro” and the industry hardly produces cameras for amateurs: Everyone wants produce “Pro” quality. )
Thank you very much for your excellent work and great site!

Thank you.
1. I think whilst you can ‘figure out’ a lot of it yourself if you’re disciplined and follow a scientific method process of experimentation, you still need to have some external catalyst to know what you’re trying to aim for in the first place. This article on influences and this one on finding style answers your question in a lot more detail.
2. It can only continue as long as the economics as a whole can sustain it – and looking at the general state of the photography market, I think the days where things continue in their present form are numbered. I spend more than half of my time maintaining this site and generating content; as you point out it’s free, and that was always the intention – most people don’t know they need education until they’ve been educated to some degree. However, given commercial photography is becoming increasingly price-sensitive (instead of quality sensitive) and costs of living are rising dramatically here, it’s less time to make more money in an unconducive environment just to maintain the current status quo. That is irresponsible to one’s family. Something will have to change, at this point, I’m just not sure what. I think half the challenge is most people don’t know how much work is required to continue producing at this level – experimentation is a must, and has time and gear costs that have to be recovered somehow. Take Ultraprinting, for instance – I’ve spent close to $50,000 on print hardware and consumables alone; I am nowhere close to recovering the costs. Yet I have to fight people who’ve never seen a print but are more than happy to belittle others to satisfy their own insecurities. It’s an uphill battle.
3. Neither I nor Wesley will be Ultraprinting for anybody else. Firstly, we’ve put too much into it to give somebody else the credit; secondly, most people do not understand the process extends to capture and also input file quality and subject; not everything is suitable, nor does it look ‘right’. It is of course highly subjective and that makes it even harder to explain. From my point of view, Ultraprinting is a medium whose goal is to achieve transparency of an idea; it’s only worth as much as the idea that goes in.
4. There’s a market for education, but not enough to make the economics work. As for printing – if even Nick Brandt admitted he barely broke even, I have no chance. As for comparisons – different era, different subjects, different tools. Wouldn’t be fair or meaningful. I aim to produce the best work I can, whatever that may be.
5. Yes, repeatedly. Either New Zealand or the Czech Republic. Malaysia is an increasingly depressing society in which costs of living are rising, the currency is devaluing, creative work is not valued, there are ‘glass ceilings’ in place if you are not part of the right club of cronies. The education system changes language every few years and as a result the population regresses. There is no valuing of quality, only low price. People do not compete here on merit or integrity – they compete on connections or by undermining others. That is not sustainable and not the environment I want my daughter to grow up in, nor is it the kind of place where I see myself having a future.
6. Perseverance and practice – in both directions. Plenty of it will serve you well, not enough and the results will not change.
7. The dedicated amateurs are the lucky ones who have the skills to produce the images they want, and only shoot for themselves. Like it or not, they represent the bulk of the industry now – both in gear consumption and related services like education and travel etc. ‘Pro’ quality is a myth that has been exploited by marketing people who have no concept of what ‘professionalism’ means. It isn’t bigger and better, it’s consistency and the ability to deliver what was promised under all circumstances. How many people really fit that description?

One part left in this 21,000-word epic. Onwards to Part III


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  1. Michael N. says:

    I don’t know if you have addressed this question in your many:
    Would you be comfortable with any type of neutral glass “filter” in front of a micro 4/3 lens or do you think that they affect the lens’ performance? If yes, which type would you recommend? UV, ND, etc.
    The glass looks so vulnerable when it is uncovered.

    • I don’t use filters in general unless there’s no choice or way to replicate digitally – e.g. UV if there’s likelihood of liquids or mud (or sparks, even) in hostile environments, ND for long exposure, CPOL for cutting glare. Front elements and coatings are a lot more durable than you think.

  2. Carol Teater says:

    Hi Ming, I actually do have a gear question. I have not been reading your blog for long, but have gone back and read a lot of the old posts. I saw that you seemed to like m4/3 a couple of years ago, then didn’t post about it again. I have not been able to find a post like ‘why I left m4/3’, and was just curious? I expanded into the system from a Canon 6D, and have been amazed at what the m4/3 can do. And how much fun it is! Thanks, Carol 🙂

    • Simple answer: serious printing. There isn’t enough resolution or dynamic range in M4/3, and the resulting output isn’t transparent enough. That and hardware issues with the E-M1’s shutter shock problem, and of late, a really poor attitude from Olympus Malaysia management.

  3. Loved your responses to varied questions. Pleasure to read. Specially liked your response to the technical question on MTF (“…there are MTF curves and there are MTF curves..”). 🙂 So true.
    …. and that sample variation is a bigger factor.

  4. Enjoyable read thus far. Needed a sizable coffee to get through it 😉

    Bring on part 3!

  5. Like many of your posts, these last two have been interesting, especially the questions that did not focus on equipment and technique. But, as I read you responses, I suspect that big changes may be coming in the future. I cannot say that I blame you if you chart a different path in the next year or two, and I will enjoy your writing in the meantime, but I would concur with many of your assessments about the current state of the economy for many professional photographers. And while I respect that you kept your blog free of charge and void of advertising, I do wonder if there is some type of revenue model that would allow a person total editorial freedom while still earning money from their writing and knowledge. I am sure you have pondered similar thoughts as your blog occupies a large portion of your time, but the fact that you have not been able to successfully solve this revenue challenge leaves me feeling a bit discouraged about the whole affair. I wish you much luck and insight, and possibly one of these ( ) in the days to come.


    • Thanks Ken. I did poll the readership some time back about subscriptions and was quite surprised at the hostility and sense of entitlement encountered…basically, a small, loyal portion said they’d subscribe; most said ‘we’ll go elsewhere. The internet is free’.

      • I remember your posts covering that option. Cost and value seem to be highly personal, and I am sometimes amazed at what folks decide is or is not worth their money. I was thinking about the whole internet is free mentality today in conjunction with some other issues, and while that may be true to some extent, it seems that the signal/noise ratio has also seemed to drop with an increase in what is making its way to the internet. I am hoping that folks will start to realize that more is not a substitute for better, and eventually be able to better value what needs to be valued.

        I recently watched a short video about how Facebook, a service that I do not use, controls distribution of your material based upon its popularity, and is also in the business of selling you advertising to get you more “likes”. But, the “likes” they sell are are not really genuine, and actually dilute your effectiveness of getting a better percentage of people to positively respond to your posts. I am not sure how long people will play with a deck that is this stacked (although I suspect that bragging rights about who has the most likes will continue to feed this fire for some time). If I want to distribute information, I certainly do not want a company like Facebook controlling who it reaches.

        I guess I will end, and apologize for, this mini-rant by saying that I would gladly pay for a stream of information that has a very high signal/noise ratio, as well as access to a civilized forum where things can be discussed so everybody participating can learn something useful. Yes, there are a number of them that are free or have no monetary cost (but include advertising), but the cost for many is not that high, especially in comparison to what we pay for some of our gear, or consume in luxury food treats (lattes, pastries, etc.).


        • Agreed, especially on your final point. I too often encounter local hobbyists here who complain about their gear and keep saying ‘if only I had X I could make better pictures’ – when the reality is they’re happy to spend thousands on gear they don’t know how to use, and nothing on education. I cannot help these people because they do not see value in learning. Even if you give away your knowledge for free, it is like trying to make a mute dog bark. Maybe I should be hawking gear as a business instead…

  6. ioojimooi says:

    Ming, thank you for spending your precious time in answering our questions with thoughtful materials. Really appreciate your generosity in sharing.

  7. Yes, please move to NZ 😉

  8. I’ve read speculation that the mid-market might return to photography, meaning economics supporting professional compensation for reliable, good quality work and yet without needing to secure notoriety as a star. I don’t quite get that glimmer of hopefulness from the majority of your comments; is there any degree in which you would concur with those thinking such a mid-market might take hold?

    767? Makes me wonder if there’s a bit of backstory to how that happened, or are you just jet-qualified as a pilot just for more fun?

    Congratulations on some more very interesting dialog with this Q&A series. Hope it brings you some satisfaction to continue with the writing.

    • In other parts of the world, possibly yes. In SE Asia, honestly, no. I think that’s a larger systemic problem to do with education and corporate culture than anything else. Corruption here is so bad to the point that every job I’ve been asked to quote on this year in Malaysia has also come with a thinly (or not at all) veiled demand for some sort of kickback or cut. And this is on top of squeezing you on price so the selecting minions can justify the choice to their bosses, and simultaneously line their own pockets because most people aren’t even paid enough to deal with inflation.

      767: long back story. Wouldn’t want to get anybody in trouble. I’m not pilot qualified on anything, but I do know the basics of how to fly and most of where the buttons and levers are in the Boeing cockpits 🙂

  9. El Aura says:

    Regarding m43 lenses and film, it theoretically might be possible to create a m43 to C-mount (as used in 16 mm movie cameras). In practice the protruding part of the m43 lens mount is deeper than the flange distance difference (4 vs 2 mm) and since the C-mount has a smaller diameter, the only way would be too remove the C-mount from a 16-mm camera and craft a m43 mount on it (and even for that there might not be enough space). You then still had the problem of providing power and control (for the aperture) to the lens, you are also cropping the lens (Super 16 mm is still a bit smaller than 4/3) and you’d have a movie camera instead of a stills camera (with all its limitation in regard to shutter speed).

    • Definitely possible, though as you say – I’m not sure how you’d control the lens (unless you were using one of the fully manual Voigtlander 0.95s) since even the focusing ring is fly-by-wire.

      On a related note, I believe the Blackmagic pocket cinema camera uses a Super-16 sized sensor and active M4/3 mount…no idea what you’d do for a wide solution on that platform, though.

  10. Beautiful photo!

  11. Jorge Balarin says:

    Dear Ming,

    For some things (none of them related with my wellbeing) I’m extremelly rational, but once I had a very disturbing experience with something like a ghost. I was 37 years old and I just fell asleep after having some nice moments with a girlfriend. Then some loud steps going into my room woke my up. While thinking that perhaps my girfriend came back to my room looking for her glasses, I turned my head on “her” direction calling her name. I didn’t have an answer, even when clearly I was seeing a well defined human figure giving his back to me, at a distance of only two meters and a half. I called her a second time without having an answer, so I sat down on my bed, always looking directly what was supposed to be my girlfriend, and loudly I pronounced her name for a third time; at this moment the figure started to vibrate in front of my eyes and suddenly was vanished, leaving me completely astonished. I stood up; I looked around my small room, and I went to the hall seeking for for the “intruder”, but I didn’t find anything. Then I went to my mother’s room and I told her, ” Mama, you are not going to beleive me, but just I saw a ghost “. My mother said, “for sure it was your uncle Alfonso” (that use to love me very much and just died some days before. I must say that later I discovered that a sort of conspiration – related with my uncle’s inheritance – was going on). Well, of course I can’t affirm that what I saw was a ghost, or my uncle Alfonso; I can only say that I got a very disturbing experience for once in my 54 years of life. Really I don’t use to talk with shadows, and I don’t drink alcohol or take drugs. Also I’m always looking for rational explanations for everything. Well, that’s my story. If you got a baby or you are going to have one, congratulations !!

    • I have no explanation for that – at least it wasn’t malevolent, though.

      We had a baby about six weeks ago – thank you!

    • ioojimooi says:

      in the Chinese culture, we ( well, some of us ) believe that the person who died will come back briefly to where he/she lived or missed the most, in the 7th day after leaving this world. i knew more than a few examples regarding this, from friends of mine and people with / without religious believes. not sure if this also applies to the Western countries and people.

      • Jorge Balarin says:

        I’m a sort of “active agnostic”, always looking for answers, even when I know that about the idea of God and the soul, we are not going to have any satisfactory answer; at least in this life (I’m not saying that there is another). Normally christians believe in the existence of the soul, and they think that if a person had a good life his soul must go to heaven more or less directly. However I’m not sure about the official Catholic Church position on this point. In the school I heard something about the “day of judgment”, when all the dead are going to resurrect and will be evaluated ( It would be like the “Walking Dead” movie ).

        The are also a lot of born christians that believe in reincarnation and Karma even without being Buddhists. I think that beside what official religions say, all around the world people has a natural tendence to believe in the existence of the soul, and a big part of them considers also the existence of ghosts or spirits at least at some moment of their lives. The anecdote that I mentioned was disturbing for me, but I can’t assure anything about it.

  12. Jorge Balarin says:

    I need to buy your videos.

    • I wouldn’t stop you, but I would suggest figuring out your objectives first and then matching the videos to that – let me know if you need help figuring out which ones are suitable. 🙂

    • Jorge, I’m not on commission and I found the select videos I purchased to be both well made and helpful. Good advice, I’d agree, to decide which ones fit best to your objectives.

  13. A midway comment to you Ming. Enormeously thank you for being open to ask you whatever we readers have had in mind. I have a feeling your are very honest in your answers. That turns you out to being a fidel and down to earth person who does not prostitude for a stand up commedian rave for an industry I feel have lost their relation not only to their buyers, but also to the objective partnership they once had to professional photographers and experts in the field of using their products. It is only about money and then the money again no matter how they come*
    The humbleness that characterises you is the bridge we students and readers cross developing our skills and competences unconstrained. Can’t recall you ever said no to any sane request.
    It is my opinion you count among the very best present living photographers and what differs you from the other excellent ones is your willingness to share your knowledge, unrestricted and to the benefit of the ambitious amateur photographer.
    Should it show, and God forbid it, that you can’t make a living of what you are doing now, then I think the photographic scociety have faced a tremendous loss and missed opportunity to be seriously educated.
    It is my strong wish you will receive the recognition you deserve and that recognition also will turn out the way you can make a living of it.

    * Mind you industry and shareholders, we consumers vote with our wallet, so please don’t regard us a stupid as you think we are at present. Here excepted a handful of companies I shall not mention in public 😉

    • Thank you, Gerner. I have nothing to hide and am very open about my current position – perhaps too open in some ways – just another photographer whose passion lead them to believe it might be a career, but honestly finding it a lot more difficult than initially imagined. Still, there’s enormous reward when the stars align, so we keep on doing it 🙂

      I’ll do it so long as I can continue doing it, but I’ve also got to remember the whole family responsibility thing – so far, still holding on. Hopefully this will continue.

    • Daniel Boyd says:

      Every words Gerner said holds true for me, Ming. I am still trying to find a place that you can show yours work here in the Bay Area so that I can buy you a cup of coffee.

  14. have found thr q n a posts fascinating ….useful, enticing funny and full of integrity! Thank you :.)) Trees

  15. WoW!!! Thanks for the post. I learned a lot in reading it. 🙂 Did not know about the 767…

  16. I don’t know if this is the place to ask a question but there it goes:
    The best teachers I had in my life had the philosophy of try to teach everything they got to their students. It’s a truly selfless method that I think is very important. Once I asked you if you could do a product photography video lessos (paid of course), because I really dig your watch and product photography, and you replied that this is how you put food on the table so you could not teach people about your workflow and methods. Do you really fear that teaching something to your students could have a bad effect on your income?

    • Well, given this is the answer post and the question submission form was up two weeks ago for a week, I’d say probably not 🙂

      However, I think you’re mistaken. The main reason I gave is that a video wouldn’t be adequate to describe/demonstrate how very small changes in light positioning would affect outcome, especially on reflective surfaces. Secondly, I have had a) people I know who are competitors ask, and b) students who really are that good and c) the general market is that bad.

      Finally, if you ask anybody who’s been on one of my workshops, they’ll tell you I hold nothing back. Even the ones I taught still life/studio photography to. I’m not going to teach something if I can’t teach it right.


  1. […] El cambio que se ha producido en año y medio es increíble. Lo que decían los de Luminous Landscape era cierto, tener a Zeiss de “socio” no es poca cosa y para ir cerrando el tema “Zeiss” que se que me estoy extendiendo demasiado… (y aclaro que no me pagan para hacerles propaganda, ya me gustaría!!) quiero mencionar lo que leí recientemente en el blog de Ming Thein en un post sobre preguntas y respuestas: […]

  2. […] final part of the epic. Find parts one and two here, the rest after the […]

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