New year’s resolutions, 2016

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Strung out: this is the photography market at present. Some fruit, none of it low hanging, all of it complex, a complex tangle to reach it and the illusion of blue skies and possibilities.

If there’s one thing I take away from 2015, is that the photographic market is getting more and more complex. There are tradeoffs in every choice – from clients to specialisation to hardware. And for me, 2016 is going to have to be spent sorting a large chunk of that out. But first, let’s see how I did against my 2015 goals.

1. More exhibitions and fine art print sales Check. Three international ones (Connection in Hong Kong in June, The Idea of Man in Chicago in October and Un/natural in Hong Kong again in December) is nothing to sniff at, and I have a new appreciation for just how difficult it is to put on a good show. All sorts of things can and generally do go wrong at the 11th hour. Did I sell more prints? Sort of. Forest IV mostly sold out, and I also printed a one-off Forest VII as a 5x6ft Ultraprint on a lightbox – which went for well north of five figures and is the largest Ultraprint we’ve made to date. A follow on show to Idea of Man next year in Chicago is looking highly likely, too.

2. Shift to video direction and cinematography Fail. None of the lumpy projects under negotiation did not materialise. I think I’m going to abandon this for 2016; it’s a whole different ball game.

3. More workshop videos, Masterclasses continue Check. We released Photoshop Workflow II and I did Masterclasses in Prague, Hanoi, Chicago and Tokyo; all were well attended. There was the intention of making a lighting video but honestly – with the arrival of the new family member, there just hasn’t been time. Next year! The Masterclasses will continue for 2016, with Lisbon, Hawaii and possibly Istanbul, Prague and Chicago (the last two are repeats due to demand) on the cards. I’ve also launched the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series; it’s my attempt to provide additional content to people who want to learn more, plus attempt of free up some time to pursue personal projects.

4. More landscape Sort of. Not having opportunity to go to locations that might yield landscapes has somewhat hamstrung this…

5. Evolving printing – more, better Check. 2015 was the year of the 100-large-canvas-exhibition; the largest Ultraprint (5x6ft, Forest VII) to date and the overall highest number of print sales so far. Can we get better? For sure; we haven’t even begun to experiment with monochrome inksets yet.

6. Consolidate Sort of. I think this is a continuously moving target: as one’s creative output changes, so do one’s clients and needs. I am focusing on the clients with the best creative fit, and attempting to go lighter/smaller (and failing on that count). My teaching activities now have a mature structure and level of commitment, and with the addition of the weekly PS workflow, hopefully a little more regular income to buy some time to focus on personal projects. I think the biggest question I have to ask myself is what is the end goal of both photography and this site (even if we never get there): I now find myself at a junction creatively, professionally and otherwise – continuing on this path has certain limitations and tradeoffs especially given newfound family commitments, and may not be sustainable in the long term. However, changing paths of course carries uncertainty and risk. Oddly, this almost feels like the choices I was faced with during the last few years I was in corporate.

Regardless of the other elements, one creative change I would like to make is to shift towards photographing or exploring a single idea as a project and a coherent series of images (with the aim towards exhibition) rather than a single image, or random images. Practically, it means trading off commercial work against personal development time, and upping my curation even further – which is fine, because personally, I’d rather fewer and better than more and mixed. It also means one step backwards to move two steps forwards: I will spend more time working on my own projects and less time on commercial and teaching; I think every photographer has to find that balance between continuous creative development and paying the bills. The catch is of course that getting stale – even if you’re busy, and perhaps especially if you’re busy – means no work which means in turn you have to work harder on the creative stuff…

One thing I have noticed though is that the higher up the ladder you go, the lumpier work becomes: commissions can be very large, but infrequent. 2016 is looking lumpier still as the global economic outlook is not exactly rosy. And much time is burned in discussion and planning that might possibly lead to nothing. One decision I made a couple of years back was to try to only do work where there was a good creative fit between myself and the client; otherwise neither party would be happy. I have no doubt this has been a sound decision, with much higher satisfaction and income per job, but fewer jobs in total – this is to be expected, of course. It is almost a binary state with only feast and famine as the two options. I cannot help but wonder if I may have to start compromising this out of family responsibility. Let’s just say I’m glad I started this journey a few years ago.

That’s it for me. Where will 2016 take you photographically? MT

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The Lisbon Masterclass (9-14 Mar 2016) is now open for booking

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here

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

Comments

  1. My New Year’s Resolution? Work with Photoshop. I use Lightroom for everything now, but I need to gain more skills in the additional post-processing possible with Ps.

  2. How many years until you switch over to cinematographer and move to Hollywood?

  3. Asif Mandvi says:

    I used to enjoy your film posts, but I guess you are done with that. A shame.

  4. Happy New Year, Ming and thank you for your informative posts!!!

  5. Samuel Jessop says:

    The last few years have been very difficult financially, so I have been decluttering and working on technique. The sale of my unwanted Canon gear means I have now got a Fuji body and the 35/1.4, and I have kept hold of my sturdy tripod. Circumstances have improved a little so I am including some expenditure into my resolutions for the first time in a while.

    1. Get away: This is a really simple thing, but I have been stuck in London for a long time and want to see more of the world. This should also provide me with more subject material.

    2. Portraits: My least favourite subject, and a good enough reason to do a portrait project this year. Not sure whether this will end up online but it will help my technique and people skills even if it never gets an audience.

    3. Colour: My Instagram in 2015 was dedicated to mono and captured only on my phone, and I was really happy with how that turned out. This year will be the same principle but only colour, and I have a feeling that it will be much more difficult with London’s often gloomy weather.

    4. Lenses: Learning one prime at a time has been really powerful, and with a limited budget I want to explore both wider and longer perspectives this year. My aim is to buy the best lenses in those ranges and learn them, including the limitations of those focal lengths. First up will be the Fuji 16/1.4, and if I can afford to then I will add the 56/1.2. These combined with my 35/1.4 will be ideal for hand luggage, will greatly expand my options in areas that I am lacking now. I might look for a carbon fibre tripod too if budget allows, there is no way my 055CL and ball head are flying anywhere.

    Reading your blog over the last few years has helped me keep a clear head. There is always something we can do photographically providing we have access to a camera, and the posts on the Hasselblads, 645z and the Otus reviews have informed my aims of buying less but better and working with what it can do. The same principles work at any budget.

    • Getting new material is tough – I agree. I am orders of magnitude more productive when I travel, and I’m going to do more of that this year – starting next week, actually 🙂

      A thought on color and mono/gloomy scenes: I find it actually helps subject separation to leave things in color because often all you’ve got is that little bit of color to separate; if things are flat, luminance differentials are limited by definition.

      Lastly, try going second hand on forums for lenses – you can save quite a bit that way, too. I only buy new if I have to. 🙂

  6. Larry Kincaid says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your last comment. Writing is a great, if not the best, way to improve and polish one’s thinking to share with oneself (later) and with others. You introduced what was once an odd term for me, curation. It’s bothered me ever since. Shows the power of a simple verbal label. I not only don’t do it enough–and perhaps well enough–I’m falling further and further behind as I continue to take and add more photographs. I cannot imagine anyone else can help you with this either, unless you want to pay someone to do a job that would definitely turn out different than the way you’d do it. So, that leaves putting in the time and work, and finding a way to store/save items in a way that maintains the initial decisions and leaves them easy to find. In this sense, sorting crude prints on the floor or table, and using boxes, seems much more efficient and effective than meandering through a computer data base and setting up a digital data base. Throwing an object into a pile would also seem to give more pleasure than clicking, copying, or dragging something somewhere. Needless to say, thank you for giving us all this reminder of how important it is. We will watch bits and pieces of how you do this on your blog. Ultimately, how would you even know what you’ve done well without spending adequate time doing this. Printing and posting on a web site just raises the priority and difficulty. I’d make it an official New Year’s Eve resolution, but sense that this would only doom it to failure. One step at a time, perhaps.

    • ” I cannot imagine anyone else can help you with this either, unless you want to pay someone to do a job that would definitely turn out different than the way you’d do it.”

      A very important point – and the role of the editor in practice; however, the editor represents the client and the photographer is merely the supplier. In the case of your own work, you’re the client, the supplier, and the editor all in one.

      I actually think one of the best forms of curation is asking ‘would I print this?’ You’d be surprised how many keepers turn out to be anything but. 🙂

  7. “Regardless of the other elements, one creative change I would like to make is to shift towards photographing or exploring a single idea as a project and a coherent series of images (with the aim towards exhibition) rather than a single image, or random images.”

    You might take in Ralph Gibson’s TEDx talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov5i-T4fOxE
    Towards the end, he speaks about finding a point of departure, something that appears to be pretty rare in photographic circles these days. (might make for some future blog posts)

  8. T’was a great year Ming. I am always amazed by your ability to regularly post online despite your hectic work schedule. It must have meant many sleepless nights. Congrats on your achievements.

  9. I was almost expecting the article to state “Resolution #1: 42 MP” and nothing else, but it’s something that’s only found in other photography blogs. 😉

    Gear choices are a mess, other than a few improvements. I’m still hopeful that weight reduction will become more acceptable and possible. Lighting gear is slowly getting there. Cameras are close, but the horrible 1990s style menus remain. The photography world is behind the technology advances being seen in other sectors, and badly needs to jump into the future.

    Longer term, I would like to see tablets become more capable as quick edit platforms. Ideally I would leave laptops behind, have a desktop with large monitor for later editing and finishing, and only carry a tablet for on-location. This sort of follows with weight reduction, because a laptop and power needs increase total weight carried.

    On a more personal photographic approach, I want to push myself to experiment more. Part of that will be pinhole photography, which I have never tried. The other part of that is a necessary shift in what I photograph, and I need to do that to get beyond my corporate only client approach, which has suffered as the energy sector saw such a decline in 2015.

    • Actually, I’m back at 8272×6200/51MP, but that’s another story 😉

      Agree on the gear-mess. I’ve about had it with the Sony, so expect that to go in a garage sale very soon.

      The iPad pro appears to have more than enough power for PP, and a great screen, but not the software to make it a viable option; mobile LR and PS are still crippled. Actually, the thing weighs more than a Retina Macbook, which is a proper computer and you can use for PP in a pinch. I’ve been using one for most of last year and find it to be a very good trade-off weight-wise – you just don’t notice it’s there.

      I’m getting the impression pro work is tough all around the world – it doesn’t make sense though, as there is an ever increasing demand for images and content…why the disconnect, I wonder?

      • Corporate spending cutbacks would be one factor. As budgets become smaller, competition to get contracts becomes tougher.

        http://www.reuters.com/article/us-oil-companies-investments-idUSKBN0UH0AB20160103

        There has been a push for many of us to specialize. The problem is when the specialty enters times of low demand. I had a great conversation about this a few years ago, when one of the top 200 advertising photographers told me about switching from automotive photography to portraiture. If it can happen to those at the top of this profession, it can hit the smaller and less known too.

        So we often need to re-invent ourselves to another specialty. Then the barrier is that we are not known for such work. So the process of reinvention can feel a bit like beginning all over again. Sometimes that’s good, though there is uncertainty in this process of renewal.

  10. Happy New Year Ming. Really enjoy your posts and your work inspires me to get off my ass and do more.

  11. Jeffrey Littell says:

    You’ve certainly caused me to realize just how important thinking is in the shooting process. Now I shoot far fewer images but much better images. Also making the camera an extension of my thinking and not the camera being the object of my thinking makes the need for the latest and greatest gear lessen in importance. My goal for 2016 is to shoot more frequently at the golden hours seeking to capture the magic that nature provides us for free.

  12. I live in community full of galleries loaded with wildlife and landscape photography. Frankly I find most of it to be positively retina seering, lots HDR lots heavy ND filters and long exposures that to me do not give me any feeling of realism .Maybe I just don’t have an eye for it, but from what of seen of your HDR work(granted I’ve never seen a live print of yours), I think you would have a lot to offer in a video class if you were to experiment with landscape a bit more.

    • But there must be some demand for it if it a) makes it into the galleries and b) presumably sells.

      Like the other videos…I don’t think the demand is there, certainly not to cover the costs of flying a video crew somewhere interesting landscape-wise. Unfortunately I don’t live anywhere near interesting landscapes, and we’re looking at at least a 10 hour flight.

      • That may be, but a quick train from Lisbon will take you to some stunning landscapes. As for demand, there probably is something about that surreal look that appeals to people yes

  13. My best bet for 2016 would be to get out of this chair. If I spent as much time doing photography as I do reading about it I might have achieved something by now.

  14. Happy New Year and good luck with your objectives!

  15. Happy new year Ming! All the best to you and your family.

    To answer your question, I’ve no clue where my hobby will go next year.. Perhaps more on quality than quantity…

    I recently had a shot published (first ever time) in a bit of a ‘art house’ type mag, my copy arrived on NYE and it was a great way to end the year! I suspect it doesn’t feel so special second time around, hopefully I’ll find out in 2016!

    Thanks for the blog (I know I say this everytime) but sincerely, I really enjoy it.

  16. Gerner Christensen says:

    Ming, bless you. Hope your projects just turns out rewarding.

    I for myself will work along tighter curation, and that would require one of two things, or both. Shooting more and/or becoming better executing the composition.
    Parallel to that I would do an extra effort to know PS better.

  17. Alex Carnes says:

    Technically, I want to improve my printing and some aspects of my composition. For reasons I still haven’t quite put my finger on, I’m still not quite getting what I want artistically (although in fairness to myself, I think a lack of suitable shooting opportunities is a large part of it). I still take the shot even when I know I’m not going to be happy with the result! In terms of gear, I think I’d like a standard and a tele zoom; I only have primes at the moment, but much as I love them, I still loath messing around changing lenses in the field. I can’t decide whether to invest further in the Fuji X system or spend the money on Nikon FX. I incline towards the latter, but thinking about what sort of photography I’d actually be doing with zoom lenses, the extra APS-C reach and DOF is nice when going long and they tend not to produce the best image quality anyway.

    Wishing you a happy and prosperous 2016, professor Thein! 🙂

    • That sounds like you already know the answer – shoot less, think more 🙂

      Zooms are fine for convenience – I use the Nikon 24-120/4 VR a lot – and if you’re on a tripod and at f8, there’s not that much difference most of the time. Similarly, if you’re not extracting every last bit of potential from your current hardware, save the money and put it towards more shooting opportunities…

      • Alex Carnes says:

        I’m fairly happy with my skill set when it comes to technical image quality, which is why I tend to stick with primes. Thing is, I’ve gone back to studying the masters, and it’s really bringing it home to me just how little that technical quality really accounts for! Composition is where I need to do better. I started out in photography shooting in order to record things, rather than to create artistic images (photographing for books on archaeology and engineering illustrations etc), so I’m having to shake off plain Jane tendencies! Get everything in the frame and within the DOF, make sure the camera’s level, expose to the right, make sure everything’s stable…

        Old habits die hard!! 😀

  18. Joakim Danielson says:

    My big but yet simple goal for 2016 is to print more, I have a good printer and a lot of nice photos on my hard drive but I seldom print so that is what I want to change for this year.

    Happy New Year!

    • Deciding what to print is actually the ultimate curation task, I find…

      • Joakim Danielson says:

        Curation is really hard and if starting to print more will improve my curation skills then that’s going to be a very nice bonus.

        • I always think my curation is tight, but when I’m deciding what to print…inevitably I land up throwing away about 90% of that, too! I suppose it’s like shooting film: there’s a physical and financial commitment to each frame…

  19. Sean Quigley Photography says:

    Happy New Year Ming, I hope your dreams are further fulfilled this year.

    I like reading the insights and honesty.

  20. Happy New Year, sifu, and all the best for 2016. Look forward to more leanings from you. Cheers!
    -Ken

  21. I think it says something that you didn’t make a structured list to execute in ’16 🙂

    Having a similar family situation, I also find myself heavily gravitating towards smaller number of processed images and less random shooting. I believe it’s actually good for my photography, even if I spend less time with a camera: more focus and less temptation to try and shoot everything, fewer images but at least I’ll try to perfect each one.

    Let’s hope the video series catches on. On a related note, I for one would love to see a landscape photography video; there are tons in the market, but frankly the images usually turn me off and I don’t want to hear about basic technique or how to create the milky waterfall effect. Perhaps that would be a good reason to travel to a suitable location.

    • I didn’t because I think ‘the list’ contributed to a sense of spinning wheels in 2015, and a struggle to ‘check boxes’ but not really make progress. This year I’m going to do fewer things better – think of it as meta-curation, I suppose.

      Video production has been somewhat on hiatus of late simply because the demand is at best marginal. Many videos did not break even, and represent a poor business proposition if the only return is ‘traffic’…however, PS has proven popular, so it also makes sense to give people what they want…

  22. Jim Fairchild says:

    Just curious, how much time on average do you spend writing your blogs? Do you think you would have more time to pursue your goals if you gave them up or limited them to, say, a paragraph? I enjoy them, but some, like this one, sound more like Ming talking to himself than to his readers. On the other hand, they are good promotional material, so I can see how they might be economically feasible. I first heard about you when Googling for info about Zeiss lenses for my new (then) Sony A7RII. Your piece about the Zeiss building was well done. Here’s wishing you a happy and successful 2016.

    • The thought process is important to improve as a photographer. Since I can’t read minds, the best thing I can do is share my own thought process and explain why I do certain things to avoid having to answer the same question dozens of times in the comments. The creative process is holistic.

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  1. […] new year is when we revisit our previous year’s resolutions (as photographer Ming Thein has done), set new goals, or set them aside to do whatever you want. This week, I’ve read a number of […]

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