The Q&A post: answers, part III

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Delving deeper into the abstract…

The final part of the epic. Find parts one and two here, the rest after the jump.

Richard Hsu: As a regular reader, I enjoy your photos, appreciate your lessons, and value your opinion. I have tried submitting photos to your Flickr pool without any success yet. It has been a humbling experience. I will keep trying. I know it is not feasible for you to give a reason for each rejection, but for someone like me, even a few words could go a long way in making me a better photographer. Maybe you could share your thoughts about some of the rejects.

Another option: you pick a few photos that you included and describe what you found interesting? This could be a regular feature of your website.
Thank you and good luck with the baby!

Thank you. I’d suggest starting with this article on the four things, and then asking yourself which one (or ones) is/are missing. Additionallyl, if you see the processing before the subject or the idea, then it’s a no go. This works both ways – for images that were accepted as well as ones that were rejected. If you would like feedback from the group, please use the flickr pool’s posting facility to do so – you’ll find most people are very helpful. Unfortunately, it isn’t practical for me to explain every decision – there are hundreds of images submitted every day, and if I spent a minute writing a sentence on each image – half of my day is gone. It also wouldn’t be fair for me to single out rejected images – so I leave it to the persons submitting to ask the audience…

William A Anthony: Do you have some thoughts on traveling to Cuba from the U.S., mainly for photography? Do you need “permission”? If so from whom and how do you go about getting it? Is it a big hassle? Suitable places to stay? Getting around? Need a guide? Safe?
Thanks for having the absolute best Photography blog going.

Some of my students from the Masterclass were US citizens travelling from the US; you have to get a special permission called a General License to go, usually under the auspices of a cultural, education or professional discipline. This makes it difficult unless you are with a group or company (I assisted under the education category, since it was a workshop). You don’t have to apply for specific permission from any authorities, but your paperwork must be in order when you re-enter the country. Since these things change often, I would check with the State Department or whoever handles your visas and immigration (my guess, I am not a US citizen nor have I ever lived in the US). It can be a hassle if financial transactions are involved – again, check before you go. Places to stay – two which are good, the Hotel Saratoga and the Parque Central. Very easy to get around on foot, everybody is friendly, and yes, safe – there are police stationed every couple of blocks. Crime is probably lower than in most other big cities around the world. At no point did any of us feel unsafe during the trip. Honestly, as a photographer, it’s worth the hassle…

Mark Ryan Sallee: Do you have any guilty pleasures, of sorts, in your photography? e.g. Do you blast clarity more than you should, ruthlessly crop away resolution, or secretly have an affinity for photographing cats? Not real examples I’d expect you to indulge, but I’m curious if there are things you do that others might warn against or turn noses up to, but you do/enjoy it anyway?
Do you ever worry you’ll get bored of photography? Do you ever feel it creeping in? How do you deal with it?
Do you consider your views populist or elitist? What do you think of modern photography trends, success of low-skill and/or unoriginal photography? Based on your work and writings, you are personally motivated by the technical execution, and don’t shy from efforts to do things “right,” but do you hold others to the same standards?
Cheers, and thanks for years of great writings on your blog.

I archive in JPEG because I don’t see the difference between Q=12 and TIFF. I’ve probably bought plenty of stuff I shouldn’t have because I knew better going in. I compromise by using zooms out of laziness if I’m on holiday (not that it happens very often). I still think there’s an old bottle of used developer solution that’s probably plated all of its silver onto the inside of the container somewhere. Other than that and sacrificing some small animals before I go on assignment, no. 😉
Yes, I get bored like everybody else. Then I take a break and the urge to shoot soon returns. In any case, I can’t spend all my time shooting – there’s admin accounting client maintenance marketing billing follow up comment moderation curating the flickr pool writing articles changing diapers etc. to contend with.
I’ve never thought in terms of populist or elitist, but I suppose I’m definitely not populist simply because I know what the audience wants to see – gear reviews, cats and naked women – in return or 15 minutes of fame…and I’m not willing to give up my integrity for that. There are plenty of other people who are, and who won’t produce anything they can be proud of. I think there’s definitely a trend towards mediocrity and laziness and immediate consumption, resulting in images that do not last and are ‘disposable’; but I suppose if that’s what the people want…who is to argue otherwise? The whole thing is subjective anyway. It does bother me that there’s a lot of real crap that seems to be sensationalised out of proportion, but who knows why. Not I, otherwise I’d probably be the accused instead.
I am not at all motivated by technical execution. It might come across that way because nobody seems to read the articles on creativity, art and ideas – just the gear reviews. Or else they’d know technical execution is merely a tool to achieve the vehicle of transparency and clarity so that ideas are not weakened by my own mistakes or equipment limitations. 🙂
I hold my partners to the same standards, because they agree to work with me and know what they’re getting into; frankly, most people either can’t tell the difference, don’t consider it important or think I’m crazy. But hey, it’s illogical to do the same thing as everybody else and expect a different outcome (i.e. non-mediocrity) in the end. You take a gamble, and stick to your guns. Sometimes it pays off, most of the time it doesn’t. But it doesn’t stop us from trying – otherwise why bother at all?

Ashlin Wang: Should your parents expectations for you have a determining factor in the decisions you make, especially a career. What if it conflicts with your passions?
I don’t expect any of the western readers to understand this question. But for Asians…this is a much bigger factor than you might think. Short answer: I did that for 10 years, and hated it. I achieved everything and more my family expected me to achieve, and said I’ve tried it your way, I’m not happy, and I’m doing it mine. Ultimately it is still your life and you have to live with those decisions. Will you regret not trying something else? I knew I would. And even if it didn’t work, at least I’d be able to look back and say I tried.

Roger Iwamura: I would like to take landscapes photographs. What are the steps that you follow in determining where the hyperfocal focal point occurs in a scene? I always wondered in your Ultra Prints you have this massive amount of data or file size that you print
and it sounds impressive but aren’t you limited by physical restrictions of the paper; or would this be a question for your Master Printer?

This post answers the question about hyperfocal distance. The physical limitation of the paper is determined by the size of the fibres. With a smooth matte paper, they are still smaller than the smallest droplet size, so this isn’t the limiting factor at present.

Ong Chin Onn: My question is when i am shooting a fashion show and model are walking around, i couldn’t always focus on the face because of limited focus point in my dslr camera, i set my 35mm lens to F2.5 and sometimes it will focus on the skirt, and hence the model’s head is out of focus. Is this correct? Should i fix my focus point to 1 point either left or right side while shooting vertically? Thanks.
You should use continuous AF ideally with a focus point that is over your subject. If not, you’ll probably miss focus. Alternatively you could lock focus at a certain distance and only shoot when the model reaches that point (e.g. a certain spot on the catwalk).

Abe Hsieh: I shoot with a D810 and M240. I consider myself most practiced with landscape and architectural photography, but am working on more street, portraiture, and macro work. My question is this…”How often to you use the technique of exposing to the right?” Which situations and how do you do it? (Spot metering versus bracketing versus another technique?) Probably there is some camera dependence…
I thank you for your blog. I have learned a lot from you and hope to cross paths and do a workshop with you some day!

All the time, because otherwise you’re not maximising the information captured and compromising your file quality. The cleanest information is always in the highlight region for a digital camera because there is more bit depth here, and thus 1 level of noise doesn’t affect a 10,000 level signal in the same way it would a 10 or 20 level signal. Yes, there is some camera dependence. If you have live view and highlight warnings it is a simple case of adjusting exposure compensation until clipping just occurs – providing of course you have a low-contrast JPEG setting because this will affect the preview image on every camera. Otherwise you can use a spot meter on a highlight point and then add a known number of stops of exposure compensation (again depends on camera) – or just go manual. I will use all three depending on which camera I am using.

Boon Yu: I am wondering whether you will conduct a workshop in Singapore, just like those you have done in Venice, Hanoi, etc.
I already have. If there is sufficient demand I’ll do another one, of course.

Orjan Laxaa: Setting photography aside, what would be yout alternative career choice?
Believe it or not, I’ve actually not thought about it seriously because I believe that if you have a plan B, it diverts your attention from what should be your primary focus – and that can make the difference between success and failure. It’s happened to me in the past – the first time I tried to go pro, I had a backup in hand, and instead of sticking it out when it got difficult – I opted to use the backup plan. That was not a good thing, in hindsight. So, learning from that mistake, I won’t think about an alternative career until it’s become absolutely clear that I can no longer make a living from photography – and have tried all possible means.

Fred: which fine art print paper to choose ? Highly subjective but maybe you have some receipes / advices pending on the purpose / objectives (B&W, color, high contrast,….)
Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that – it also depends on your processing, your print method, your drivers, your intended display method (color temperature and intensity of light etc.). I personally like Permajet Portrait White 285 because of its extremely fine surface that is matte to kill reflections but still has some subtle texture to it; it is also very easy to handle and has both the ability to take a lot of ink and have minimal dot gain. I now use this paper for all of the Ultraprints because of these properties; even at 720 real PPI, the ink dots are larger than the paper fivers. For pure B&W work, I prefer Canson Platine Fiber Rag (a baryta) because of its surface texture and ability to hit much higher Dmax; the only drawback is that the barium sulfate coating on the surface tends to result in baryta dust sticking to it from when you cut the roll. Very careful handling is required. It can hit nearly the same level of detail as the Permajet, too.

Tarmo Aura: It’s more of a topic than a specific question, but how do you care for the equipment to keep it intact in various conditions? You have mentioned dryboxes and some routines, but e.g. switching lenses in the field is still a scary thought to a mirrorless user (who in my case has also destroyed a few non-sealed cameras with sand and dust). You must have many useful bits of wisdom around the topic, and certainly some kind of authority due to the careful handling and maintenance of your own gear. It’s sort of a missing part of the workflow you have not yet written about.
Good question. I live in the tropics (think up to 100% humidity, transitions between outdoor heat/humidity and indoor air conditioning cold/dryness resulting in condensation) and have worked under some pretty unpleasant conditions – both in extremely hot/humid environments (e.g. in subway tunnels under construction) and very cold ones (up the sides of mountains during blizzards). Basically, the weather sealing of your equipment is only as good as the weakest link: if the lens is not weather sealed, then it is irrelevant if the body is or not. With extreme changes in humidity/temperature, I will try not to change lenses or open compartment doors until I am absolutely sure this has equalised to avoid any possible condensation. I managed to short and destroy a D2H after shooting with it in torrential rain – it wasn’t the rain that did it in, but switching out a fresh battery in an air conditioned room afterwards not knowing there was condensation inside the battery compartment. In that way, plastic bodies are actually better for extreme conditions because they tend not to be as thermally conductive. All cameras will be resistant to moisture to some extent; keep them under your jacket or have a small towel handy in the field to wipe them dry. I store equipment in climate controlled boxes – common in the tropics – at about 27C and 40% RH. This means they are ready to go regardless of environment – internally dry so they won’t condense in A/C, and warm enough they won’t condense outdoors. When transporting equipment, I will keep them in the bag as long as possible to equalise temperature if there is a temperature change – or out, if not. At the end of a shoot, everything is wiped down with a damp clean cloth and returned to the cabinets with caps open to dry out completely. I have never had any issues with lens fungus in hundreds of pieces of glass other than one Leica 90/2 AA I bought new – I suspect it was not properly stored to begin with.

Jethro: What’s your take on one-camera, one lens approach when visiting foreign places that are never visited before? Spicing things up, perhaps just one-focal length?
I wouldn’t do it for somewhere I’ve never been before, usually because if I’m not on assignment I’ve got some specific objectives or I’m teaching – and as a professional, it’s just too risky. I will most likely go with a full setup and spares. I might however do the one camera/one lens thing on holiday or a familiar location to try and introduce some restrictions (and hopefully encourage creativity to not come back with the same images again though. Put it this way: if you were going on a once-in-a-lifetime trip for photography, would you take the risk of only bringing one camera?

Leon Roy: Favourite city to photograph (and preferred time of year/day)?
[I’ve answered the second part of your question together with another person who asked the same thing]
It’s a tough call between Tokyo in autumn/winter, New Zealand’s South Island in winter, Havana in spring and Prague in Autumn – all are good, and later in the year there’s good light pretty much so long as the sun is up. Shooting in twilight is also rewarding as lights are still on and people are still out and about; in summer things tend to wind down before the sun goes down. It’s also a lot more pleasant to shoot in than tropical humidity. These places make the list because of their very distinct personalities – I’m sure there are many others, but these come to mind first.

David Meyers: I was very interested in your post regarding the LR vs. PS debate and thought the back-and-forth in the comments section was very interesting. Somewhere in there you admitted that you’d learned PS from a mentor. I’m wondering if you think your teaching videos A + A2 would do for me what your mentor did for you. A big difference between having a mentor and watching a video – even a very good one – is that a mentor can respond to questions.
I’ve tried to make that as much the case as possible, but as you point out – there’s no way to replicate the experience of personal tuition via video. I believe that the current video set summarises and conveys all of my relevant knowledge about PS and postprocessing in general in the most logical format, but it’s always possible that individual photographers have specific requirements and edge cases that fall outside the scenarios covered. It is of course possible to combine the PS videos together with the Email School if you want to replicate that experience.

H.K. Bian: How do you deal with creative burnout? Or burnout of any kind? Do you even burnout?
I definitely burn out, like everybody else. Four years of making slides 24/7 did me in, for starters. I’ve been involved in photography in some serious way or other for the last fifteen years. There have been times when I’ve had enough out of frustration or lack of inspiration or a bad experience or something else – I will inevitably hang up the camera, but find that within a few days I’m back to wanting to shoot again. There’s always some idea left to try, somewhere to go, or something you see when you don’t intend to shoot that makes you want to get back into it again and realise in frustration that you really can’t give it up, because the drive to create has somehow become part of you. I think it will always remain the case until I find another creative outlet – but so far nothing has quite satisfied in the same way. That said, I do recommend shooting only when inspired, and not when not or when things don’t ‘feel’ right – trying to force it just makes it unpleasant, and defeats the point of doing it as a hobby. If you have to shoot for work, that’s another consideration entirely; but then you’re also unlikely to be unhappy if you have work given the state of the current photography market. 🙂

Jeffrey Horton: What’s the story behind your bathtime photos on instagram?
Not much of a story. Our first child was born a few weeks ago.

Karl Johan Borgis: for a number of years it has been a pleasure and adventure reading your blog. Heart-felt thanks for that.
I notice you like the 45mm P Nikon lens which I happen to own and like myself.
I was wondering if you have come across some other of the pre-AF Nikon lenses that “draws” in a way that might make you choose it rather than more recent offerings? Except the Noct-Nikkor?

Thank you. Can’t say that I have – the only one that comes to mind is the 105/1.8 AI, but that lens seems to find its limitations at 12MP. Anything more is somewhat CA-ridden, sadly. There are lenses that match up to modern offerings, such as the 500/4 P and the 55/2.8 Micro, but I can’t say that I’d pick either of these over AFS/VR versions if the choice existed. Modern optical design has come a long, long way – and at least is now considering the sensor as an optical component (which it is, given its filters and microlenses). I suspect the modern greats may actually perform oddly on film since it lacks these elements – I suppose I will have to put one of the Otuses on the F2 to check that hypothesis one of these days…

Matt Marshall: There’s obviously scope to answer this question with a very lengthy thesis but a high level practical, theoretical and philosophical answer would be of great interest. I’ve left genre unspecific, although I understand your answer would differ dependent upon chosen field of work. Anyway, hope you feel it’s worthy of deliberation/contemplation…
What balance between such skills as raw photographic talent, commerciality, work ethic and professionalism would you suggest is necessary to commence a successful career in photography for an ambitious enthusiast thinking about beginning a career in photography?
With a reasonable understanding of these attributes and bearing in mind that it’s nigh on impossible for the enthusiast to gauge one’s own chances of career success at any given point in their amateur photographic journey, it’s really hard to decide whether to make the jump or to remain non-pro given the scale and quality of photography out there in a crowded marketplace.
Thanks Ming, all the best.

In hindsight, it really boils down to two things, and two things only: luck, and how badly you want it. Without either, you don’t have a career. Remember, you are going into a profession that has no regulation of standards, cutthroat competition, a highly subjective, non-scalable product, and high capital investment. You can be technically competent, professional, and be ready…but if every potential client you approach says no, or you don’t get a break, then you will ultimately run out of money. Similarly, you can get jobs thrown at you out of the blue, but if you don’t work to maintain your reputation, nobody is going to come back. Talent is probably the lowest thing on the list because that can be learned and improved upon; the rest of it has to be there to some degree before you start. ‘Wanting it badly’ is a bit more than just desire: it’s the motivating force that makes you chase down just one more lead or go that extra mile to ensure your existing clients are happy, or late nights spent experimenting on a new lighting technique, or thinking about how you could monetize or promote yourself better. It is the difference between success and falling just short, or specialising in one particular genre or subject and being known for it. It takes a huge amount of passion to maintain this level of effort; I run 14-16 hour days, every day; sometimes more. This site alone eats up 5-6 hours per day, and that’s on top of the actual shooting, processing, client management, accounting and billing, marketing, following up leads, organising logistics and travel etc. There are far easier (and more profitable) ways to make a living – think carefully, because being a professional means delivering what the client wants/expects, and that is often quite different to shooting what you want. In addition, you also need to decide if you can handle the financial and personal tradeoffs this kind of life is going to entail; understanding of accounting and cash-flow is also a must. It definitely isn’t the glamorous fifteen minutes of fame that review-bloggers would like you to believe their lives are; the reality is they’re pretty much making minimum wage from having sold out their soul to advertisers and manufactures. This is not meant to be discouraging, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you a realistic picture.

Euweng Chan: First and foremost, thank you very much for your tireless work on your blog. I find your articles very stimulating and engaging, and I hope to read more from you in the future.
Like you, I am a physicist by training, though I am just starting a career in Actuarial Science. I photograph as a hobby, and find that my mathematical intuition can come in handy when determining exposure parameters (I shoot on a meterless RB67). I also think that I have a deeply ingrained liking for symmetry in my photos because of my background.
My question to you is: how have your experiences in Physics and the corporate world affected the way you photograph?

I think if anything, they were what made me take up photography in the first place – I am the sort of person who needs to have a tangible outcome to effort to be satisfied, and corporate most certainly doesn’t give you that. (A career in physics is pretty much impossible unless you are brilliant, which I am most certainly not, and requires the same kind of dedication a career in photography does.)

Frans Richard: Apple recognizes you as the best candidate to lead a top secret project, designing the Apple Camera, a proper ILC aimed at the “prosumer” that has to become the most photographer friendly camera that money can buy. The Apple Camera has to be a camera like no other camera currently on the market and should be truly disruptive.
Would you take the job and what would you design?

Yes, but you have to realise that they have already disrupted things entirely at that level of the market with the iPhone…but to really knock one out of the park, they have to take that entire concept one step further: the ease of use and access to the full performance envelope of the sensor and optics that the processing power of the iPhone brings and the IBIS of Olympus; a large sensor and lens combination like the GR, perhaps interchangeable, and at a pocket friendly size with a beautiful design to create a covetous ‘want’ factor. Then put the thing in the hands of both people who can shoot and ordinary joes and create a marketing campaign from the results, preferably with an education element. The spec sheet should be decided on what people actually use and not what every other camera brand says they should went (but never need). And I’ll need that unlimited budget to produce the custom sensor I have in mind, too. There’s no reason we have to stick to 3:2 rectangles or certain sizes if you’ve got the financial muscle to start from scratch. Or the Bayer array either, if you’ve got that much processing power on board. 😉

Claudius Schmitt: I really enjoy your articles, thank you for all the time and effort you put in them!
Personally I am interrested in your experiences manually focussing lenses (especially the Otuses) on DSLRs without having to rely on live view.
Do you use a split prism or another custom focussing screen?
If not: have you tried this option at some point with an Otus?

I’ve tried most of the custom focusing screens available on the market. They were adequate for the 12MP cameras, but not the 36MP ones. All of them required some degree of modification to fit, and then shimming of the finder and adjustment of the mirror afterwards to accurately reflect the focused distance. I now use an LCD magnifier and live view, and my hit rate is much, much higher – screen resolution is fluid enough, and it shows wide open DOF so you can not only see the focus plane move back and forth, but focus on subjects in the corners – which isn’t possible with any focusing screen.

Talia: Have you ever given a try to LUTs [I assume you mean color lookup tables] to process your photos in Photoshop?
No, have not seen the need.

Noel: Not sure that this is a straight-forward question or more a theme or subject to incorporate in an appropriate article. It comes from reading various user experience articles and posts for manual cameras (including yours), and my recollection of using hand me down film cameras in the late 80’s and 90’s. I tend to think that the manual focusing and setting exposure from in camera light meters occupied the hands in a more engaged way than pressing buttons to select functions in modern digital cameras, and I now feel a little dis-engaged or passive even though I have much more control available, and not just automation.
So the question is – Do you consciously work in modes/approaches that are craftsman-like? (in manual and mental terms). Or, is digital craftsmanship more the result of being able to master the equipment and programmes so that you do not have to think consciously/deliberately about controls and commands? I am not thinking about haptics, or UI & ergonomics (though obviously related, and have to be mastered).
That question is very clumsy and imprecise, so feel free to ignore and delete if it does not make sense or ring any bells for you, I will not be offended in the slightest.

I suppose it centres around your definition of ‘craftsman’ and ‘craftsmanship’ – I see that as the ability to produce a specific output or product with some degree of skill and consistency; in that sense the professional photographer is a craftsman more than an artist. (I would define ‘artist’ as somebody who operates on an instinctive level and is practiced enough not to have to think about the craft/execution portion.) Is there some manual/tactile/physical ability involved? Most certainly, and more so in the days when nothing was automated. However, it’s a different sort of craftsmanship now – we chase higher performance and more distant goals because we no longer have to allocate that portion of brain power towards the basics. I suppose in a way it’s like comparing a 1950’s F1 car with one from today – both are demanding tools, but in different ways, and require a substantially different skill set to get the most out of them. Understanding the properties of film is not really relevant now, as the concept of digital workflow and the level of control possible poses a challenge for those raise in the film era. There is undoubtedly something to be gained by being a master of both approaches, but the diminishing returns scale rises rapidly. My personal approach is somewhere in the middle, because I would consider myself an artist first, a technician to be able to have the skills to produce the desired results, and a craftsman when it comes to consistency of execution and improvisation.

JJ: From curating the flickr group (thanks for putting in so much effort, by the way) what are the biggest problems you see that make you reject photos? And how do the problems you see in others’ photos compare to problems you see in your own work when you curate and discard your own shots?
I’ve got an article coming up on this soon, actually…

Stefano Guistini: I think your blog is one of the most interesting of the web, and your photos are great!
so… actually I’ve got quite a lot of question to ask.. but.. I’m limiting myself to just 3, if I dare.
first
I love bw, and noticed from your many reviews that some cameras are more “easy to great bw conversion” than others.
So, my question is: what feature do you prefer to have in a file (maybe a raw file) to make easily a great bw conversion? or what’s the difference between an “easy” and a “difficult” file? it’s something about the contrast, the dynamic or whatever?
Second do you ETTR? and in case, do you use some peculiar setting for jpg to match as much as possible the histogram that I can see on camera (relating to jpg) to the real histogram (relating to raw) and overexpose without blowing the highlights, or it’s just “hit and miss”?
Third what kind of metering do you more frequently use? something like Nikon’s matrix or something more spot(tish) and personal?
thank you in advance! and keep up the wonderful job!

Thank you!
1. Definitely a raw file, and it’s about having as much dynamic range as possible so you can allocate the tonal map how you wish; good B&W is about smooth transitions more than anything else. Avoiding clipping, or ensuring a gentle rolloff if it’s unavoidable is critical.
2. Yes, I ETTR all the time. In fact I’ll go slightly overexposed, up to the limit I know is recoverable with ACR and the particular camera I’m using. This way you can preserve as much tonal information and color accuracy as possible.
3. Depends on the camera – some require spot, for some matrix is OK, and other times I’ll just go manual if I want to control both shutter and aperture (camera controls ISO).

Will Solis: How has becoming a father affected your life?
Aside from the obvious diminution of time and sleep, priorities have completely shifted. One is now completely responsible for another helpless human, and that takes precedence over everything. Oh, and I shoot more baby photos (but that doesn’t mean I’m going to post any – my family life remains private 🙂

Mark Ryan Sallee: How do you deal with the anti-social ness of photography? Not referring to the common debate over subject permission, but…
Taking photos is largely a solitary activity. You can go shooting wo a group of friends, but unless you all do adventure photography as a profession, it’s largely a solo thing. Or even if you’re out with friends — or a spouse — and you’re the only one shooting, it is fairly anti-social to interrupt conversation because you’ve found a nice subject to work.
I bring my camera everwhere, but find it difficult to take the time to use it when I’m in social situations. You’re quite prolific and must have to deal with this, I’m curious how.

I actually dislike shooting in large groups, because it’s too conspicuous and there’s always this element of competition. The friends I shoot with tend to wander off on their own and we regroup at a set place and time; everybody understands the need for focus so it works quite well. As for my spouse – she wouldn’t be my spouse if she didn’t understand, and my immediate family aren’t bothered. I won’t interrupt conversations unless there’s an absolutely fleeting and incredible moment though – then the reaction is usually “did you get it?” In other situations, waiting a couple of minutes isn’t really a problem – and people who spend a lot of time with me understand that occasionally I’ll see something and tune out for a moment, but it’s nothing personal. That said, I’ve always been a fairly solitary creature anyway…

Simon Smallridge: If a child of yours wanted to get into Photography as a profession, what would you say to him/her? If you could go back and start all over at the beginning of your career, would you do anything differently?
Thanks for the informative blog, keep up the good work!

I think if they’d seen the hours I work and how demanding the job is and still want to do it, all I can do is provide encouragement, support and whatever benefit my experience might give them. Doing things differently? From a commercial standpoint, properly studying the various sub sectors and picking the one with the largest market and greatest potential for growth would probably have made more sense than trying to get into something that interested me but had zero market (i.e. watch photography) in my part of the world. Either that, or moving…

Ajayharsh Varikat: Ming, if your photographs can really connect emotionally with your audience, do the Otuses and D810s and ultra prints and ultimate technical perfection really matter that much?
It depends on why you are using those tools to begin with. Don’t make the mistake of thinking technical perfection is my end goal, it has never been. Resolution, lenses, printing etc. is necessary to create transparency so that whatever the idea is for the image, it comes through without being diluted by the medium. If you saw one of my finished prints in person I think you would understand (and everybody who has seen them does).

Oscar Wong: Commercial realities on workflow aside, what is your take on traditional darkroom techniques in terms of the absolute image quality? Would you see this as more of a basic training for general photographic concepts which yields skills transferrable to all photography, digital or analogue; or it has already become an obsolescence in light of the super-mega-pixel sensors out there, and the advent of photoshop?
Born late into the film era, I had the benefit of both knowing a bit about both digital and analogue workflows. I do not have the resources to invest in the top-notch digital gear like Arca-Swiss & other digital backs, and could only afford access to amateur gears like the 5D MKIII. My feeling so far is that with the same amount of money, investing in legacy gears yield a much higher image quality and, personally, a more enjoyable workflow.
However, the difficulty in getting the necessary supplies in analogue workflow (no Kodachrome, no Cibachrome, and E-6/ RA-4 chemicals are scarce creatures mostly found only in online shops where air transport difficult to arrange), and discontinuation of analogue consumables (when was the last time anyone saw a roll of 100-ft RVP50), has come to a point where I have to question myself whether it is still worth the effort and costs to pursue ths legacy route, or will it just make more sense to scrap the past and invest only in the future (I guess with all my film gears out, I could probably afford a Pentax 645Z plus the lenses as a start).
Being only a hobbyist, I don’t really have a grip over the happenings in the industry. I’ve heard hobby groups talking about film resurgence out of sheer curiosity of teenagers towards the brown film roll, New 55 Film, Impossible Project and all that, but at the same time I see the Kodak Slides, Fuji Astia, T64, RVP100F, Neopan 400, 800, 1600 dying away. Perhaps would you please shed some lights on the subject from a practitioner’s perspective? Have the commerical pros using 45 films become extinct?
I observe there is a dearth of information on skills with analogue (let’s take unsharp masking in enlargement as an example) – I guess it is partly due to the fact that it’s less easy to share the results than attaching a .jpg outright, and the other part being a misunderstanding that darkrooms are inaccessible / impracticable to the general mass. If we fix this by, say, more publicity and discussions on the topic, do you see there be still a future for the analogue market?
Sorry for putting up so many questions…but you said ask you ANYTHING 😀
I’m sure Steve Huff would just ignore me because these questions won’t help him sell his multitude of “best lens ever”.

Well, you get more for your money with film gear – back in the day, the top of the line stuff cost as much or more than comparable digital. The difference was that your running (i.e. film) costs could be many times that again, too. Prices for used pro film gear have fallen since the pros have shifted out to digital and sold their equipment to pay for the transition. Supply and demand. The reason is not just quality – only in the last few years have we exceeded film with digital – but speed, lack of labs, risk, workflow etc. It just isn’t profitable anymore. And good luck finding a client willing to pay your film costs, or not complaining at the final number if it’s costed in. But, given there were a finite number of these things made and they do succumb to entropy eventually, resale value can only go up.
Is there a future? For pros, no. For amateurs, maybe; but the ones who are serious are the older generation, and the younger generation like Huff and co do it for the hip factor more than anything else. I doubt he would know what a dodging wand was if it slapped him in the face, much less how to use one. The fact that nobody questions the fallacy of filters looking like a certain film stock (utter BS, since it depends on your developing method and chemicals) is already a sign of the times. I believe there will always be a niche industry, but it’s never going to be mainstream again.

Orjan Laxaa: One question I should have asked first time: Do you have any dining/eating/travel tips for Venice?
Aside from the obviously touristy places, pretty much all of Venice is photographically interesting. We stayed at the A La Commedia, which was excellent and conveniently located. Eating-wise, there are bank-breaking choices should you wish, but some highlights from memory – Le Bistrot de Venise, Fiaschetteria Toscana, Rosticceria near the Rialto Bridge and Alle Testiere. You could also buy fresh produce, cold cuts and cheeses at the market and eat in – those were superb. Finally, I’m pretty sure it’s an autumn-only thing, but the local persimmons (kachi) were incredible…

Jake Reeder: What is your favourite watch and why- do you have a favourite in each price bracket?
I think ‘favourite in each price bracket’ is probably closer to reality simply because it’d be impossible to choose one to do everything, unless I suddenly had eight figures and the ability to build custom pieces. Below $500, it’d be one of the Seiko ‘fifty five fathoms’ automatics; below $1,000, I think I could probably squeak in a Nomos Tangente or Orion; below $2,500 a Sinn 756S; below $5,000 a second hand JLC Reverso Latitude or Reverso Gran’Sport Chronographe; from not much more than that to six figures, an ochs und junior custom, and above that, a Lange Datograph. The latter is never going to happen on a photographer’s income though. Each of these is in the mix because of a) aesthetics; b) value for money; c) something extra – that latter element is difficult to quantify; perhaps it’s a design element, rarity, or engineering brilliance – either complexity, for the Datograph, or simplicity, for the ochs und junior annual calendar. I’ve seen and photographed so many watches and was involved in this community for long enough that anything I do land up buying has to feel like enough of a special experience to justify the asking prices – almost all of which are overinflated by 60% or more, which is margin and marketing overhead.

Ryan Stinneford: I’ve always wondered how you get so much done. You joke about lots of coffee and lack of sleep, but I imagine there is more to it than that. It must come down to time management, discipline, passion…but how do you really do it?
Pretty much how you’ve speculated – at the end of the day, I sleep 5 hours (now less that our first child just arrived), sometimes need to function on coffee, grab the occasional power nap where I can, and force myself through periods of uninpsiration just like everybody else. I waste as little time as possible and plan my schedule efficiently to avoid burning the hours in Kuala Lumpur’s horrible traffic. I do have days that are lighter, and days where I’m almost running around the clock. If you care enough about something, it doesn’t feel like a chore. But if it’s rubbing you the wrong way – take some of the uneducated and downright rude and demanding comments on reviews, for instance – it really makes you wonder why you are making sacrifices for free. I suppose it really still boils down to how much passion you can sustain – looking at things holistically, do the good bits outweigh the bad ones? My biggest challenge now is to find a sustainable way in which to move forward; on one hand, expansion and growth and popularity is a great thing, on the other, it isn’t because your income doesn’t increase – in an industry like this that isn’t scalable, it actually goes down because unless you’ve got more spare time, you’ve got to allocate more of it to ‘managing the overhead’. An unexpected paradox, no?

Lucy March: If you could be paid well to do the assignment of your dreams, what would that assignment be?
A great last question – assuming being commissioned for a series of art pieces for an extremely large building isn’t possible, then it’d have to be something travel-related and long-term; perhaps Lonely Planet needs to re-shoot images for every single one of its guidebooks…

Thank you all for participating! MT

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Comments

  1. Ming, great article, as always! I too have a question, if allowed: anywhere on your blog, could I find info on how you prepare the images for posting on web (blog,flickr, facebook, etc) I know there are a LOT of resources online on the subject, but I would really appreciate hearing how you do it. Thank you.

    • Downsize in PS with bicubic sharper; no extra sharpening because Flickr seems to apply it; expand canvas to add the black border, add text. These steps are automated Ito a batch action.

  2. Kristian Olsen Lid says:

    Late to the party, but I’ll take my chances!

    You have extensive experience with the PC-E 85/2.8. Have you used the older, non-E version? If so, how does it differ in terms of handling and image quality? Would you buy the older one used? Its half the price of the newer E version.

    I’m not a full time pro, but I do quite a lot of product and architectural photography [as a hobby].

    Thanks in advance!

    • Yes, I used to own the older version and sold it for the 105VR – this was some time back when relatively low APSC densities and crop factors made f16 sufficient, or 12MP FF made f22 still usable. Optics are about the same, though I seem to remember the D version had a smoother focusing ring. That said, I’ve not used it on the 36MP bodies. I actually think the older version would be more flexible than the newer one because you can set aperture mechanically and thus use it on other camera systems if need be…

  3. snappycow says:

    Hi Ming, so do you do your own film development? I’m looking to try developing my own film (can’t find any photo studios near my place (Bukit Jalil) that still does film development +_+)

    Tutorials and press kits are easy enough to find online, but my concerns are the disposal of the chemicals. Do you just pour them down the drain? From what I have read, most fixers contain silver which is dangerous and harmful, and must be disposed of properly. If you are indeed doing your own development, how do you dispose of them?

    • I do my own development. The developer can be poured down the drain, fixer can be reused for a very long time. I then let it sit to precipitate out the silver, which is filtered before the rest gets flushed down with extreme dilution. Unfortunately there are no disposal places here.

      • snappycow says:

        I read that the silver can be extracted with some steel wool too. But what do you do with the silver after filtering it out? (collect enough and melt into a nugget perhaps?)

        • Sadly, there isn’t that much. It’s solid, so you land up just wiping it out with a cloth or kitchen towel. Still has to be disposed of, but at least you can seal it into a plastic bag and not have it contaminate the water supply 🙂

  4. Michael N. says:

    Ming:
    Sorry.
    I may have posted this question in the wrong thread.
    I don’t know if you have addressed this question in your many posts etc.

    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 lens glass on my lenses look so vulnerable when they are uncovered.

    Thanks!

    • I replied your previous comment:

      “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.”

  5. Just thought I’d say how much I enjoyed reading these Q&A posts, very interesting set of questions! I admire your patience and honesty in answering all of them. And, more importantly, I hope you find a way to make photography continue to pay its way without needing to compromise your artistic integrity or long term goals. It would be a terrible shame to lose you as a photographer.

    • Thanks – I certainly hope so too, but there’s only so much you can do when you’ve got the DPR hoardes on one side and the price-pushing clients on the other…

  6. Reza Abdallah says:

    hi , Ming … regarding your video tutorials in Teaching Store , does it comes with subtitle / translation in English ??! … i’m asking because i’m interesting but i was born with hearing problem … regards.

  7. Lonnie G says:

    I’ve never posted on the site before but I have been lurking and soaking up all the information I can over the past couple years. Just wanted to drop by and give a huge thank you for all the hard work and sacrifices you’ve made for the site- I know it hasn’t been easy. but this is hands down my go to site for all things photography education and reviews. Planning on scrounging up some money for a few videos if I can. Truly one of my favorite photographers ever Ming. Cheers.

  8. Ming, Love this abstract. Very, very nice. Hope you’re well with new family!

    Cheers, Kevin

    >

  9. evanpetrie says:

    Thanks so much for this series Ming. Really appreciate your perspective and insights, not to mention all of the time and energy that goes into it. Congratulations on your first child!

  10. Daniel Boyd says:

    Ming reading your answers (and most essays) require one to focus and bump up their IQ a tad (however one can do that, if it is possible) to fully get the answers, methinks. At least that is for me. I do believe your audience is well versed, educated, and professionals. I can safely compare reading your blogs to the image of ancient students, sitting on the steps of buildings having a highly intelligent, at times thought provocative dialogue with Aristotle.

    IMO,low level comments is understandable here. Not much to debate or wonder, we asked, you answered. End of story.

  11. Interesting, the low level of comments. I’ll bet that if you look at the analytics, you’ll find the readership is high. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of questions asked-and-answered, so what’s to dispute?

    Some golden day in the future my bills will all be caught up and I can start buying videos. Until then, thanks again for the ongoing effort.

  12. Ming, I doubt there is a reader who does not appreciate your effort, honesty, and willingness in producing this series. It may be possible the thought of an endless stream of “thank you” is not something they wish to inflict upon you. Perhaps an increase in video sales would deliver a best indicator of appreciation.

  13. What a great series. You’ve answered a ton of questions and provided invaluable insight. I really think you should reconsider allowing some advertising links (B&H, Adorama, etc) . Your integrity is unquestionable and your audience is exactly what these companies want to be exposed to.

  14. Ming,

    This series of posts has not generated a ton of comments, but I just wanted to let you know that I have found it very valuable. I am sure that many of your other readers have been quietly enjoying the series as well. This has been an incredibly thought provoking series. I have also particularly enjoyed your more theory related posts, though I typically do not comment on them.

    Thank you, as always, for generating such stellar content for your readers.

    • Thanks David. I can’t figure out why that’s the case either, given that the content was effectively requested by the readers…

      • Beats me. I thought that at least the individuals who posed the questions would follow up in the comments…

        One or two gear related thoughts… I am curious to see what pentax comes up with as their full frame camera later this year (or next?). Their cameras have a lot of nice features, but I don’t see them grabbing any significant amount of market share at this point. And, most of their lenses are dx. I wish Ricoh would release a GR with a 40-60mm focal length lens (preferably 55 or 60). I would buy that in a heartbeat.

        Another thought occurs. With new releases of cameras, inevitably the manufacturers release sample images. By and large, those photos seem to be underwhelming. They usually aren’t particularly good photos from a technical standpoint, let alone a creativity standpoint. They also fail to show off the latest and greatest capabilities of X camera model. I’ve never really understood that.

        Even though I have not had time to shoot lately, I have been thinking a lot about the use of color to convey particular moods / emotions in photographs. Putting aside for the moment the nature of the subject and the composition (which are obviously significant components of a photograph), black and white photos convey mood and emotion primarily through light and contrast. I suppose that in color photos light and contrast still play a role, but often it seems primarily only insofar as how they affect color. At least in my own work, I have often found that I am better able to convey mood and emotion in black and white photos. Do you feel the same way about your work and/or the work of others? I find that I am generally more drawn to black and white photography as it usually elicits a stronger response from me.

        • I think it’d be difficult to grab market share with a new system product at this point because that market is largely mature. Especially when the lens investment isn’t going to be cheap, or readily available. A shame, as I’m sure there will probably be some nice features and well-thought ergonomics in the FF Pentax much like the 645Z. And yes, I’d be on a longer FL GR in a heartbeat, too – as would many others. Boggles the mind why they’re so stubborn not to break the GR ‘tradition’ and make one, but they can make impractical stuff like the K01.

          I don’t understand the poor sample images either. It’s as though they just gave the cameras to their staff and said ‘we need some photos to upload’. Even the pros involved in testing seldom are asked to contribute samples, which is odd. Nikon occasionally makes an exception, Leica hires somebody from Magnum or something, and at least Zeiss bothers to engage people (I’ve shot stuff for them before) – but that’s about it.

          Color has to be used carefully. We see it with our eyes and it’s ‘normal’, unlike B&W – but there are subtleties that can make a photographic rendition of it unnatural in a bad way, or unnatural in a way that’s arresting. This article might help.

    • Luke Johnston says:

      I second Gary. I have also enjoyed this three part series in silence.

      It seems to me you repeat information in your answers to different questions in this series (contributing to this feeling may also be me downloading and watching HTS: Melbourne over this weekend). This is not a bad thing because as I scrutinised some some files I shot this morning, the reason you prescribe ETTR finally hit home. I will incorporate this into my behaviour when I shoot in the future so thank you.

      I have been reading this blog for a couple of years now. If I ever become a brilliant and consistently purposeful photographer and had all the money/time/will in the world, I doubt I would end up shooting images anything like yours. With that caveat, I feel I have learned more from this website than from any other single resource. This is simply because you offer content that is not available anywhere else.

      So thanks Ming Thein.

      P.S. after spending three years wading through all the other online photography blogs etc, I also really like Tony Northrup’s YouTube channel. If you aren’t aware, him and his wife are incredibly prolific in producing high quality videos (he’s clearly pushing his audience to buy his commercial photography education product but I don’t think that detracts from the tonne of free content they produce). I am not implying you need to watch their videos of course. But I thought it might make you happy some a pair of passionate, educated and journalistically neutral people are providing a Huff/Polin/Digitalrev type service that actually puts their audience’s best interests at heart. Check it out if you ever have some downtime.

      Oh, that’s not a plug or anything. Just what I think.

      • You’re welcome, Luke. But I would say that with effort and commitment it’s possible to be as good as you want to be…I started out blinding people, and no, I won’t show early results – but let’s just say that’s one of the sources for my obsession with curation.

        I have trouble seeing how Huff/Polin/DR have anything but commercial interests first – and it’s quite obvious the work that comes out is below mediocre, which in turn affects credibility…but hey, I’m 100% sure it’s a better business model than mine 🙂

        I will have a look at Tony on your suggestion.

  15. Thanks for the restaurant tips. Bistrot de Venise looks like something worth checking out.

  16. Jerry Russell says:

    I’ve enjoyed the last few posts–thanks for taking the time. One thing that came across a little too clearly is the belief (or hope) of so many readers that there must be a trick somewhere that they’re missing. Whether it be presets a clever technique in PS, or simply the *right* lens there has to be a secret you can share so we can make our photos look more like yours. You’re to be commended for being as diplomatic as you are.

    The closest I come to experiencing anything like that is when I show someone one of the handful of photos I’ve taken that I think are exceptional in some way, and then hear “Wow! What kind of camera did you use?” as if the camera was responsible and I just happened to be the guy holding it.

    I do enjoy your images and I think you can probably turn those questions around and take them as a compliment. It’s extremely difficult to develop a *style* that is recognizable to a fairly large group of people. You’ve obviously pulled it off–and not because of post-processing.

    BTW, I’m as guilty as most of being too gear oriented. I do like to think though that I figured out many years ago that my gear is not what is holding me back.

    • Jerry, there is no substitute for hard work. It isn’t equipment or a preset or some magic button combo (left left A B down left B B fire!) – it’s practice and an open mind. Nobody ever asks a chef what pots he used to create a great meal, or what chopping block, or congratulates a brain surgeon on his choice of gloves. I left these questions in to be answered because I’m trying to do everything I can to hammer home the point that it really isn’t the gear, but your knowledge of it. Ah well 🙂

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        – – –
        – – –

        The returning wanderer
        of unknown lands
        wide awake,
        with eyes of wonder

        Has hard work before him
        singing his stories
        in the wind
        that carries his people about.

        But their children,
        holding their parents’ hands,
        stay to listen
        wide awake
        while their parents eyes
        widen with wonder.

        —*—

  17. For Richard Hsu,

    I looked through your stream. I think the most helpful thing would be to get Making Outstanding Images videos 1 & 2.

  18. Thank you Ming for quality answering so many different quality questions. I think most of us readers have got an insight in your life as Ming, the photographer, and even beyond that. It has been a great great read.
    .

  19. Very fun and very interesting set of posts.

    Thanks!

    –Ken

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