Forum thinking

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One of the best things about this website is the people I’ve met through it. At this point, my motivations for continuing to create content and engage with the community are pretty evenly split between the pleasure I get from interacting with a huge range of people with common interests, and the satisfaction I get from writing. A look at the comments below the line on any one of the more popular recent posts* – that were not entirely gear or review related shows that there’s some very insightful and intelligent discussion starting off the back of the original article, almost always covering viewpoints or interpretations that I hadn’t initially considered – and whilst I do try to be as comprehensive as possible when writing, it’s of course impossible to be exhaustive. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn something from these discussions, and I think one of there reasons we enjoy the quality and size of community we do here is because such discussions are both self-curating and self-encouraging. I have been told repeatedly that as far as photography goes, this community is pretty unique on the internet for both erudition, engagement and civility. The next question is of course: how do we grow this?

*For example, soul; soul, redux Photokina 2016; would they be famous now; bucket list; trouble with choice; state of play; social media – for a small selection

The tried-and-tested route is to open a discussion forum. The kind where people start their own threads and hopefully keep things somewhat on-topic and civil; but as history as shown, it seldom stays that way for long. Whilst the nature of discussion in fora is a lot more freeform, it seems the internet brings out the mean and petty in people: without heavy moderation, things decay into a train wreck very quickly. I don’t know a way around this, to be honest – every forum I’ve seen has its share of grade-A a****** whose sole purpose is to troll and feel superior by getting a rise out of everybody else. Before long, the discussions have nothing to do with the original purpose of the forum, and wading in feels like entering the seedier parts of New York in the early 90s.

I don’t believe heavy moderation is a solution either – there’s no point in encouraging people to speak their minds and then regulating that to your own biases or preferences. Disagreement is the genesis of discussion, and discussion is required for education and understanding. Achieving a balance here is tricky, and made worse by a wide range of cultural sensitivities that have to be taken into consideration since participation is very much international. Err on the side of caution, and the discussion becomes dry and boring; be lax and we get scenario A. I think discussing very subjective and personal topics like art and photography only make the situation even more complicated: there are no absolutes, rights or wrongs, which means that one man’s opinion is as good as the next – and because good art has to be emotional at some level, we are almost certainly bound to be completed unable to be objective in any way. I’d actually argue – and there are those who will disagree, and rightfully so – that if you can have an objective and rational discussion about art, the work doesn’t really resonate with you in any meaningful way.

What we essentially have at present is something akin to a guided discussion: I’ll put forth some thoughts on topics I feel are interesting or important or have new relevance for whatever reason, and let those who are interested take it further if they wish. Whilst this is workable, there are a quite a number of topics that simply don’t get much engagement from the audience for whatever reason – perhaps they appeal only to a small segment, just me, or I’m completely off the mark. As much as I’m writing for me, I’d also like to do what I can to appeal to a greater audience – because we can see how valuable the extended discussions (referenced in the opening paragraph) can become. The current comment layout is also not really conducive to threaded discussions, which is a limitation of the format – there’s no way to shuffle more recent posts (i.e. topics) to the top of the page without disrupting normal traffic and making new articles and posts visible. All I can do is shuffle most recent comments to the top within their respective threads.

Other than reviews, I think I’ve pretty much covered the list of topics that readers mentioned would be interesting for future discussion in a much earlier poll. I’ve said this before, but I should restate it again: I have no intention of going back to producing reviews on a regular basis because they’re far too time consuming, I almost always have to buy the product in question (and take a huge depreciation hit on resale) and this is the kicker – effectively pay to do work, and then be abused by fanboys and trolls afterwards. I think any sane person will agree that it just isn’t worth it.

Other than status quo, the options I see on the table are:

  1. A heavily moderated (but open) forum. This has the advantage of potentially expanding discussion, but requiring a significant increase in the amount of work on my part (or having to engage moderators etc.) And I really don’t want the discussions to devolve into equipment – there are legitimate questions to finding solutions to creative problems, but it’s a slippery line before that turns into ‘what-should-I-buy?’ then ‘X-is-better-than-y-and-yo-momma-so-fat’.
  2. An invitation only or paid forum, with minimal moderation. I think the additional barrier will weed out  the trolls and unsavoury elements, and hopefully the resulting community doesn’t require policing – but there are the obvious disadvantages that come with closed groups, not to mention the same kind of personality issues in future. And who decides who gets invited? How do we vet new members to protect the existing community spirit without excluding potentially valuable contributors? I think you can see the problems here…
  3. Collaborator articles. This approach seems to be the natural evolution for most big websites; it becomes more work than one person can handle, and there’s a team taking care of content, administration, etc. It becomes easy to cover a very wide range of expertise. The problem here is we’ve seen far too many sites whose original gestalt has become significantly diluted – and quality compromised as a result – because the rest of the team isn’t producing at quite the same level as the founder(s).
  4. Discussion point posts. Rather than the full-essay format we’ve had so far, I could post rough skeletons of thought instead – and let the community expand in the comments. This might be interesting option as it would mean we can cover a lot of other peripheral topics that are interesting but I lack experience to comment on (e.g. drones, video).

For obvious reasons, any steps taken in this direction must be done with the buy-in of the readers. On top of that, if the reader-generated traffic and content becomes greater, I’m physically not going to be able to keep up with every discussion in every thread – as it is, the site takes up somewhere between four and five hours a day of my time, every day. I’ll have to trust you all to be sensible, and self-policing. Whilst editorial direction of the site remains 100% under my control and discretion (and no, under no circumstances will this turn into a blanket review site), any community elements just won’t work if they’re unilateral. And at this point, I’m going to open it to the floor: should it stay as is? Open a forum? Have readers suggest more topics? Start posts/threads with single question/discussion points instead of complete editorial pieces? Collaborator articles? What would you like to see? MT

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Comments

  1. If I could complain about something: there are too many interesting comments on the site, I can’t read them all!

    On another note: is it possible to receive new comment notifications without leaving a comment and checking the “Notify me of new comments via email”?

    • Ha!

      Comment notifications: I think you can subscribe to a post, but I’m not sure if that’s something you have to enable in your own login/disqus/wp preferences.

  2. I certainly read your blog for your writing and insights, which would be massively diluted by bringing in collaborators. Your viewpoint is unique I think, that’s what draws people in. I have wondered before how you manage to find the time to blog, run your website, run workshops, reply to every comment and still manage to have a life- do you ever sleep?! I agree with what earlier posters have written- less is more in this case, keep it you but post less often. And don’t feel the need to reply to every comment I suppose.
    Now to see if you reply to this comment….. 😁😁

  3. A lot of unfriendliness and trollinging in internet forums only occurs, because people are aware that they cannot be identfied. Of course there are several reasonable arguments against posting your straight name everywhere. A compromise I see is that a participant has to uncover his identity to the moderator before participating (for example by paying 1 cent via PayPal to the moderator). I imagine that this could at least suppress gross agressiveness. (Maybe add a passage in the forum rules that severe violation of these rules would lead to the straight name being added to the corresponding statement in forum discussions. This should keep aggressive trolls away….)

  4. Ming,

    What you are providing us is a window into an altruistic professional who desires to share his desires and objectives with others.

    That model works because it gives us a window into ‘you’, someone to be appreciated and admired.

    Honestly how many pros would take the time you have.

    I have a slightly different take.

    1. Present what interests you, gear-wise, technique, approach and philosophy. N/c
    2. Take some ques from Leica Blog and choose pros or semi-pros who you respect and have them present essay platform for discussion based upon their experience and equipment use. It should be educational even to the point of providing a new way of thinking (i can think of so many artists – some controversial) David English, Jacob su Sobol, Paul Wakefield, Nils Thuneb(who?)
    but include a range of formats (digital and some film, perhaps large format as an example)
    3. Bring in well formatted and not overly intrusive advertising in areas beyond just photo equipment and ‘t’ shirts, items that your audience would be attracted to. Use careful discretion. (Income generating)
    4. Team with different of these pros and semi- pros for paid international workshops, perhaps location forums etc. (revenue producing)
    5. With the revenue generated hire a web manager to assist with the entire process
    6. Draw thoughtful philosophies from even well dated photographers, philosophers etc. and use that material as a way to approach the creative life, not just photo arts. Here you might look at dated manifestos, unique individual takes on photo arts etc.
    7. Create interview videos for your constintuency with various pros you respect (not mainstream) and draw out of them their philosophy and approach, less on equipment.
    8. Move to make the site more of a touchstone for creativity in its grander sense, with application to the visual arts. Ways of breaking the rules, others such as yourself, optimizing them.
    9. Large format photo forum has produced several discussions on particular photographer’s philosopies (Weston e.g.) which could be applied to digital and modern technique.
    10. There is a npr program called “On Being” which although inappropos in subject matter to this site, provides insight into how to channel your desire to educate on subjects close to you within your genre. Interviews of those you admire, focusing on what about them interests you, placed in video on the site (paid access only?) would def draw additional viewers. (Potentially revenue producing).

    As much as I love my family, for some creating a life balanced is not possible.

    Good luck with your decisions.

  5. You evidently enjoy what you do irrespective of the time constraints but, when a family comes along you owe it to them to ensure that they enjoy your love and attention. You will not get many opportunities to make sure you get your work/life balance correct without regrets in later life. You can never really retake a photo so make sure you are never ever trying to retake or make up for lost and precious time, you just can’t do it. As to where to go from here…build your work life around your family, and if that means less of Ming posts so be it. I think your readers are a very understanding group and would understand your position. I read your posts for its quality not the quantity. Best wishes.

    • Thanks Tom – I’ve always believed that one could have both quality and quantity and everything else, but sometimes reality hits when you find yourself needing more than an extra espresso to start the engine in the morning! 🙂

  6. Michael Fleischer says:

    I wish to add something into this forum.

    Firstly this is you and your familes precious lives together and the fact you need to re-evaluate your time is
    only natural. Therefor make your choices as you see it fits your life and health.

    Secondly this is your blog and labor of your own passions. Your outstanding pictures in so many ways says more than a thousand words and yet your words are considered and always revealing new perspectives. It´s so refreshing to read and food for deeper consideration. I find this site unique and that you wish to share all this is a bonus for all
    and must not be taken for granted.

    My suggestion is to ease your workload; perhaps post twice a week and it is understood
    you cannot comment on all comments… 🙂

  7. What you have done here to date is unique in my experience. For one, your ability to write easily and long has been a pleasure to find. Your willingness to reply is unusual, and you may not be able to keep that up. So, IMO, changing it up will depend on what that is like. Folks traditionally don’t mind something more being added on, but dislike having anything taken away from them. Having the comment section below an article, as you do now, is crucial for me. I don’t always comment, but I appreciate the richness and frequency with which others do. And there is little to no “getting personal” in the current setup, probably because you are almost universally present in the all the comments.

    Would it continue to be one article at a time, with comments (as it is now, but with various authors) or would there be, as with most forums, a sub-forum for cameras, one for lenses, and so on? As it has been so far, we have one main course and no smorgasbord and that’s it.

    Would the invited contributors try to keep up your tradition of answering most comments? Certainly you wouldn’t be doing that. Many forums have one main article (LuLa does this) and then many forums on various topics. No matter how it gets tweaked, it is going to be hard to get away from that fact that the way you have done it up to now has worked well. You have IMO a unique way of photographing and great experience, so when you write, people listen. And then they talk with you (and sometimes to others) in the comments.

    As for the current format’s problems, it’s true that finding the latest comments or replies is not easy, because they are embedded here and there. Not being able to modify a reply and correct typos is also not helpful.

    • “What you have done here to date is unique in my experience. For one, your ability to write easily and long has been a pleasure to find.”
      I swear them other people never learned to type properly or got a proper keyboard – those two things make it very easy to record thoughts at the same speed at which they occur, which I think is critical for fluidity. (I suppose you also have to do the thinking in the first place, too).

      Good points re. fora.

      Unfortunately, the comment systems available for wordpress are all limited in the same way: no way to modify, latest comments do rise to the top, but that’s about it. Anything else requires a user database to track who has access to edit what comment etc. and you very quickly land up with a forum again…

  8. If I were to add my 2 cents, I’d advise to make small changes and see where it takes you. I think you’ve already taken such steps, e.g. cutting down on reviews. Any major change, even if the new system is eventually better, is likely to lose some of your pool of readers or active participants. Since your personal time is the immediate issue (and significant revenue increase is unlikely to happen – I made some remarks on that below), start from the changes that free up most of your time.

    Some thoughts and suggestions:

    – Posting every 3rd day is likely to be entirely satisfactory (to the audience, at least 🙂 ), especially given the length of your typical article and/or photoessay. It may even increase discussion activity per post. Perhaps some of the brief commentaries would have to become “extras” posted between the regular stuff, at least if they happen often.

    – Guest articles would work well if carefully selected. I’d recommend starting from people you know & you know to have interesting perspectives and adequate writing skills. I’d imagine there are many experienced photographers who’d like to publish some thoughts, but don’t have the right kind of forum or interest to start regular blogging.

    – Other collaborative stuff like dialogues between you and other experts is great, but probably takes more time to produce than solo articles.

    – I think having the discussion section directly below the article is important. The reality is, even having to go through one link would reduce the number of participants. I agree that the current platform is not ideal, though, e.g. unread posts since last visit are not flagged. It’s small things like that that easily stifle the discussion.

    • Thanks Tarmo. The discussion platform is the challenging one: moving to a forum based-thing doesn’t allow me to guide the discussion enough, but the current form as you say has significant limitations. I’m investigating other options, but many seem to require me to move to another platform or do significant back end reengineering that I think is honestly not worth it (and may land up brewing a lot of things). More to think about, small change of frequency reduction when it gets too much for now 🙂

  9. BurriTortilla says:

    A few years ago, you and Lloyd(?) published a discussion about the Pentax 645D, if I remember well.
    The two educated minds going over a topic, provided better insights than any one of you could do alone.
    That kind of collaboration, – perhaps involving manufacturers, customers too – would be of value to us readers.

    • Yes, good memory: we should do it again, though not on equipment – he tests far more than I do, and I haven’t needed to acquire anything in a while. It’s quite liberating actually 🙂

  10. Said AZIZI says:

    imho, the attraction to this website -more importantly the returning traffic- is because of the quality of the content you post.

    I surely don’t come back here because of the comment section. I’d accept however in order the suggestions : 4, 2 then 1

    3 isn’t cool really 🙂

    • Gotcha 🙂

      • Said AZIZI says:

        With some hindsight, I can say that I do return here for comments depending on the topic, sometimes I would be looking for answers to things I didn’t understand, others i’d have something to suggest, add or want to discuss especially when it is known that you do read and answer almost every comment. I do even check the work of some comment writers (Gerner Christensen comes to mind) and I think that indeed, the community is an important part of this website.

        However I am still “against” the 3rd suggestion because honestly, my believe is that it will dilute the quality of the content. I am certain that you’ll choose an appropriate way to implement it but that might be the fear of change that is talking. Will the level of interaction with you be the same ? Will the quality of writing stay the same ? Will the commitment to this website stay the same in both quality and quantity ?

        Imho, since you have given the forum option 50% in the bullet points above, you are partially leaning towards that option. Be it open, semi-closed or paid, a forum will stay a forum and discussions will need moderation.

        Ideally, your commitment should stay the same as it is the pillar of this website. The guest posts, the forum and discussion points (As forum posts) will only be beneficial if the pillar is well maintained.

        Thank you !

        • Wouldn’t make sense to knock down the pillar since that’s the whole point – but I’m wondering if the pillar could support additional load with some reinforcement, and deliver higher performance overall 🙂

          I think for the moment, replacing some full-blown articles with guided talking points might not be a bad idea…

  11. Perhaps you are heading toward what LuLa (Luminous Landscape) set out to be, a site controlled benignly (but firmly) by the owner, but one that features articles (and discussions) by qualified (and invited) writers on photography. What we need, IMO, is a quality site that has variety, including gear appraisals, but perhaps those would not be by you. If you are trying for a mass site, then it will be troll-city, unless there is a manager of etiquette that removes (with little discuss) those that don’t get it.

    • Yes and no; they’re basically a small enterprise – that’s not the aim here (and never was); I’m just trying to figure out time vs content vs audience preferences, and if there’s an opportunity to somehow gain on all fronts, which is probably impossible – but no harm in trying, right? 🙂

      • LuLa only became an enterprise about a year ago or so, and it is “small.” I believe I understand what you have to do to continue all this, and that is to either continue as you have been, with less posts (which is fine with many of us) or shift emphasis from you alone to you orchestrating a group of invited speakers to cover the areas that you deem worth covering. If you go that way, I can write, and would be glad to help out with what narrow areas of photography I know. I am sure others would too. Aside from yoru own concerns, the concern of people like myself is to find a photography home to share and exchange in. I am retired, but still very active, so I don’t have tons of time for this kind of thing, but I would make time (and will for something that I love, photography… and in a nice setting.

  12. Hi Ming, here are some thoughts on this topic:

    I am on a number of social media fora, photography – Pentax Forum, occasionally I also comment here (mainly read and learn here). I have a couple of my own blogs. I currently have paid subscriptions to Diglloyd, Luminous Landscape and Reid Reviews.

    Forum Ideas:

    Pentax Forum is well moderated and has generally managed to maintain a positive-ish tone. There are the usual trolls there of course, but you can add them to an ignore list. The tone is set from the top at Pentax Forum, and also by the moderators. Ignore lists work well when used judiciously.

    As you have noted, a lot of fora, including photography ones comments degenerate very quickly. The comments section here has managed to avoid that so far. What I have noticed is that where there are anonymous user id’s people can troll as they like, as there is of course no personal accountability.

    Can I suggest one way to restrict that impulse would be to require all commenters to register, use their real name, and provide you with verification of identity. You have grown a set of mature readers and commenters here, and I note that several already use our real names. If you implemented this idea I believe the approach has potential to be self moderating.

    Paid Options:

    As you have noted several times in discussions and articles, professional photographers need to have multiple revenue streams to remain viable. You use this blog to sell product (which I have brought and enjoyed learning from) and also your in-person training.

    Given the amount of effort that you put into this site, I think that for it to be sustainable longer term you need to further monetise the site.

    An example of what I am prepared to pay for is the paid subscriptions I currently use – Diglloyd DAP US$60 pa for gear reviews, Reid Reviews US$40 pa for lens reviews mainly, and Luminous Landscape US$12 pa for site access and tutorials, Pentax Forum US$50 pa donation to support the site running.

    There is currently plenty of discussion around the internet at the moment that everyone hates subscriptions, and that it is a dying model. The counter to this is that people are prepared to pay for quality – information, tutorials, etc.

    You have clearly chosen not to cover this blog in advertising – I think to maintain quality and independence. Therefore, my opinion is that you will need to monetise by some sort of subscription. I have already voted with my wallet here by purchasing the ‘How to See’ video series from you, partly because it looked interesting, and partly to make sure I supported your efforts – as I enjoy reading this site.

    I personally would be prepared to pay a subscription for site access, and if I started commenting here more – essentially for use and enjoyment of the forum and opportunity you provide. Interacting with you personally on occasion would be an added bonus.

    Collaborator Articles:

    I think putting these into the mix would be a good idea, as long as you maintain article quality. Perhaps to supplement your articles with different topic areas.

    As others have already noted – much as I am really enjoying your Hasselblad work, and the image quality you are achieving, that is not a space I see myself moving into as an amateur photographer. This site has plenty of articles you have written previously about different gear, its uses, limitations, shooting envelope etc – which are all very useful and thought provoking, but will date. Perhaps high quality collaborator articles looking are different equipment, genre, and application of the universal photography challenges to these would help maintain a breadth of interest in this site over time.

    Best wishes as you consider the path forward

    Ross

    • “The comments section here has managed to avoid that so far. What I have noticed is that where there are anonymous user id’s people can troll as they like, as there is of course no personal accountability. Can I suggest one way to restrict that impulse would be to require all commenters to register, use their real name, and provide you with verification of identity.”
      Already in place for comments, which is perhaps part of the reason why we’ve managed to keep things friendly. I’ve also moderated out anonymous trolling (but left in people who are willing to stand by their positions with their names).

      I don’t mind the idea of providing something in return for something: that’s of course the basis of commerce, and the reason why I do offer some products. But asking people to pay for what you’ve been willing to do for free isn’t fair. It also isn’t the problem so much as just raw time required vs family requirements. A paid model doesn’t fix that.

      “Perhaps high quality collaborator articles looking are different equipment, genre, and application of the universal photography challenges to these would help maintain a breadth of interest in this site over time.”
      It makes sense, but I’m worried that will bring the equipment trolls back out of the woodwork.

      Truth is, the gear doesn’t matter anymore – and it hasn’t for a while – we use what we’re happy with, and should be able to move on from that to the creative stuff if we’re ever to make good images.

      • L. Ron Hubbard says:

        “Truth is, the gear doesn’t matter anymore – and it hasn’t for a while – we use what we’re happy with, and should be able to move on from that to the creative stuff if we’re ever to make good images.”

        While I agree with this comment completely (I havent bought a single piece of new gear in now 5 years), I suspect that if you abandoned gear talk posts, your readership would plummet tremendously. You can see this just by a casual observation of the comment count on gear posts vs photography posts. Easily 5 to 1 in favor of gear posts. The reason I think is that people are far, far more into buy gear and owning it, rather than the very difficult art of photography.

        A great majority of your readership would move onto more gear related authors if you turned your focus towards photography.

  13. Carlos Polk says:

    Ming,
    A couple of comments. Gear reviews are the ones that get the most response, but bring out the trolls. Please don’t go more in that direction. Selfishly, I like the philosophically oriented articles and the photography essays. They are by far the best on the web. Several people have commented “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Don’t know if I agree with that entirely. Almost everything can be improved. But I would trust you to know what and when to improve, and I trust no one else’s advice. It seems that time is the issue. I have the same problem – young daughter and too much work. There is a cost for that. A very high one that is not worth it. I am trying to figure out how to get out of the same situation. Time lost with your children is gone forever, along with the memories that might have been. In your case the blog is not a primary source of revenue, only incidentally interesting people in your training packages and the opportunity to travel with you and learn from the master. Simply doing less might be the solution and I doubt it would cost you anything in any respect. It would probably make me look forward even more to new postings from you, and give some of those other people time to read everything. It will be most interesting to see what your decision is. No matter what, I will be looking forward to anything from the mind of Ming.
    Highest Regards,
    Carlos

    • “Selfishly, I like the philosophically oriented articles and the photography essays.”\
      I do, too, which is why I’m writing more of them. That, and thinking forces awareness which in turn makes me create better images. 🙂

      ““If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Don’t know if I agree with that entirely. Almost everything can be improved.”
      The only problem with this is we’d still be eating cold roadkill if somebody hadn’t said ‘I wonder what happens if we rub two sticks together…’ – I’ll go one step further by saying that this site and the concept of it exists because I thought (perhaps arrogantly) that what was out there could be improved.

      “…only incidentally interesting people in your training packages and the opportunity to travel with you and learn from the master. Simply doing less might be the solution…”
      Yes, and that’s why I’ve been doing fewer and fewer workshops (and plan to probably do none at all this year).

      I’d love to hear how you managed to find a family-work balance you’re happy with too, when you manage it 🙂

  14. Chuck Allen says:

    Hi Ming –

    I’ve never written or replied previously. I’m a old guy now. I’ve been taking pictures for a long time and still dabble in the digital world. I’m a big fan since stumbling onto your site a few years back. Your thoughts, insights, reviews and teachings have all made me a better photographer. I’ve purchased many of your videos. They have changed the way I think about photography and more specifically the way I process images. While I still have a bunch of big, expensive and heavy gear, I carry around a Ricoh GR and more recently a Leica Q, in no small part due to your writings. I’m happier for it.

    At the risk of going about as far off topic as one is capable of, here’s my sage advice.

    Be true to your family first. Almost at all other costs. I say almost as there is an obvious balance there. I forsake a career in photography and (unrelated) in aviation at a young age because my wife and I started having children. I worked in a family business, pursuing my avocations as time allowed. Doing so provided me one significant benefit. A benefit so significant that, although I intuitively knew it at the time, I truly didn’t understand its importance until reaching my current station in life.

    My vocational path allowed me to buy time. I believe you can buy time – in a literal sense. I made the financial decision to do that which allowed me to spend the most time with our 4 kids as we raised them, yet still provide for them. Rarely did my wife and I miss any important moment in our kid’s lives. And I don’t mean an important moment to us. I mean an important moment to them – be it a school play, a sporting event, birthday parties, regular family vacations, help with homework.

    The result present day is priceless. Our 4 kids are your generation. They are all wonderful individuals, college graduates, successful in their own right and our relationship with them could not be better. I think back to what might have been had I pursued a career path that would have been, well – mostly selfish at the time – not to imply at all that yours is. For me, it would have been. It likely would not have provided me the financial success I had. That decision allowed me to buy time. Not having to work more hours, more days, more weeks with more travel should hopefully translate into time. It did for me. And I used that time to be with my family. Time that you will only truly be able to appreciate and evaluate once a lot of it has passed.

    Seems to me the choices for you are more about balance than path. I think you should do that which allows you a better balance of time.

    Many of us can buy things. When those things wear out or are gone, we can buy more things.

    We can’t buy more time.

    Best of luck in whatever decision you make. I’ll happily be a supporter.

    • Thanks for the advice, Chuck – you’ve very eloquently said what I’ve been thinking increasingly often for the last few months (and the motivations for the changes proposed here). I’m already one up on most in that I work from home, but that doesn’t mean I’m always 100% present – and I need to and want to change that.

  15. John Brady says:

    Ming, some thoughts:

    Status quo – it actually works I think rather than the overhead of moderation. I’ve restricted my commenting on your site specifically because you personally reply to every comment. This is unsustainable for you. Perhaps your threads are now somewhat self-policing because they are on topics which attract a more measured response. Yah-boo GAS debates have subsided significantly since you reduced your review output. And obvious trolls tend to rejected by the community you have built up.

    Heavily moderated – as above. Some sites successfully have appointed moderators, who understand the ethos of their host. Perhaps you have some willing retirees who have the time to do this for you? However you then have the overhead of managing the moderators…

    Invitation only – this invites petty politics I’m afraid.

    Paid model – I suspect this wouldn’t be a barrier to most of your readers, but it may empower trolls rather than discourage them – “I’ve paid $x and I can say what I like”. It’s one of the reasons I follow your Photoshop weekly workshop; its the closest you have to a subscription model, and I see it as thanks for the millions of words you have written since you began this blog. Although I always seem to be a few weeks behind.

    Collaborative articles – I think that guest articles (under your editorial control) may be the way forward. These have been well-received in the past (e.g. when your psychiatrist friend wrote about trolling). A good model for this site would be Judith Curry’s climate science site, judithcurry.com; she is a prolific poster but also has guest posts (not necessarily always in line with her own ethos) which tend to stimulate interesting debate. If you haven’t come across her site, I would highly recommend it, although warning – rabbit holes! I think you would appreciate her clarity and analysis. In terms of topics – some of your readers have commented compellingly on the psychology of art, and on artistic compositional techniques; perhaps this could be complementary to your own postings?

    Skeleton articles – these undermine your USP, which is thoughtful analysis. I’d rather see fewer posts of the same length than a larger number of shorter posts. You’ve mentioned in another reply that your prolificness is part of your appeal – not for me! It’s depth rather than frequency.

    In summary: I would suggest reduced posting and moderation plus some (well-chosen) guest articles. And (from personal experience) to spend more time enjoying your family life – there are no action replays!

    • “I’ve restricted my commenting on your site specifically because you personally reply to every comment. This is unsustainable for you.”
      Only when the posters say something interesting, which fortunately tends to be quite often 🙂

      “Perhaps your threads are now somewhat self-policing because they are on topics which attract a more measured response. Yah-boo GAS debates have subsided significantly since you reduced your review output.”
      Bingo!

      You’ve given me a new idea: a point-counterpoint debate…hmmm. Somebody could suggest a topic, I take one stand, and then we get a volunteer response (or responses, which are then curated for coherence and presentation) – Thank you!

  16. Casey Bryant says:

    From the comments, I would gauge this community most values a handful of things, all of which are unique to mingthein.com.

    1) MT–the combined quality of your writing and photography are unparalleled
    2) Quality and maturity of discussion is refreshing and rewarding
    3) Emphasis on photography technique (educating in general) as opposed to other gear-centric sites
    4) The Flickr Reader Portfolio offers a convenient feedback to one’s craft

    Whatever you do, preserve/grow what makes your site unique. A couple of ideas to throw out there:
    1) Amplify the community. As a substitute to MT musings, a weekly reader photoessay/articles with MT as editor.
    2) A business relationship with a complementary professional to share the load? This is less ideal since after all it is mingthein.com.
    3) Branch out into an entirely different media. This actually falls under “more” work, at least in the short term, but could transform into a less demanding and more sustainable format long term. You strike me as one capable of the challenge, given your many talents. A couple of creatives that come to mind are chasejarvis.com (photographer turned creative director), samharris.org (neuroscientist/philosopher/writer turned podcast host interviewing other intellectuals), Chelsea & Tony Northrup (photgraphers) on YouTube.

    • 1) Not a bad idea at all; if presented the right way, I think it makes sense because the expectations are managed.
      2) Nope, investigated several, none were viable for a whole host of reasons.
      3) I’m already doing that 🙂

  17. As long as you keep your site’s uniqueness and high quality, traffic will probably continue to grow organically over time. Since it is taking too much of your time, cut your input in a way that will have the least negative impact. How closely have you analyzed your website usage stats? I believe a histogram of how many articles (or even how many pages) are accessed per user per month or some similar metric would be helpful. If it shows only a small percentage of visitors read several articles per month or if they spend only a few minutes on-site per month you can probably cut back your production somewhat without seriously damaging user-perceived value of the site. Filter the metric for your core (frequent or heavy) readers and compare with overall. The non-core have less direct relevance for your brand. But keep up the great quality of what you do write, Ming and you website will continue to be one in a million.

    • That’s easy: 95% of traffic is review-related. I don’t want to (and can’t without actually using the gear in my own work) do this.

      Core: most seem to read everything, and decreased posting frequency results in decreased traffic and time on site. The only conclusions I’ve been able to come to are to a) ask the audience what they want, which is the purpose of this post and b) hope that it aligns with my goal of freeing up a bit more time and offering something better.

  18. Hi Ming. I came here a few years ago now on the hunt for a D800 review, and have stayed around ever since – so equipment reviews have their place here, esp. because you do them with such distinctive integrity and a focus on photography not gear, personal preferences and shooting experience rather than technological gimmickery.

    My sense is that you already know that 3 and 4 are the only really viable options for you that will keep the USP.
    What I definitely don’t want are contributors or collaborators who think they’re Ming-clones or copiers of your style – in some ways these would be even worse than the trolls! So if you go for option 3 I think there’s still quite a lot of risk involved. It needs someone (indeed, one person might be sufficient?) with a portfolio of images that are very different from your own but who shares your exacting standards and unshakeable integrity. This is what cuts through your site and makes it unique and intellectually engaging.

    With regard to thematic coverage, I’d welcome more on photographic inspiration and history (with crossovers into broader art- and cultural history), a little more diversity in photographic styles and approaches (e.g. landscape/macro/film/portraiture/conceptual as well as reportage/travel/street/architecture), and some thoughts about what photography might look like in the years ahead (5, 10, even 20?). Gear-related speculation is not what I mean, of course: open creative thinking about opportunities and risks is always interesting to read and to contribute to discussions of (cf. your other discussions about photography and social media), as part of the ongoing body of critical-theoretical work on photography within art history and cultural history. A tribute to John Berger?? More discussions of photography and broader trends in popular culture?

    PS Please please keep up with the flickr group. There’s nothing like it anywhere else, and it’s single-handedly transformed my self-taught photographic output and confidence over the last couple of years. Bravo!!

    • “…equipment reviews have their place here, esp. because you do them with such distinctive integrity and a focus on photography not gear, personal preferences and shooting experience rather than technological gimmickry.”
      And that, is the eternal conflict of reviews: they’re only valuable if you actually use the gear, and I’m really, really happy I no longer play musical cameras every three months. But I can see why others think this is boring 🙂

      “With regard to thematic coverage, I’d welcome more on photographic inspiration and history (with crossovers into broader art- and cultural history), a little more diversity in photographic styles and approaches (e.g. landscape/macro/film/portraiture/conceptual as well as reportage/travel/street/architecture), and some thoughts about what photography might look like in the years ahead (5, 10, even 20?). Gear-related speculation is not what I mean, of course: open creative thinking about opportunities and risks is always interesting to read and to contribute to discussions of (cf. your other discussions about photography and social media), as part of the ongoing body of critical-theoretical work on photography within art history and cultural history. A tribute to John Berger?? More discussions of photography and broader trends in popular culture?”

      A lot to address here. Good idea on the history/ art perspective. Specificity of styles etc. not so simple: I’ve got to also shoot the material to match, and if I don’t have time or my assignments don’t match, then this just can’t work for practical consideration. Future of photography: I can’t honestly say I know how even I personally will be shooting next year, which is the reason I’ve been avoiding it. John Berger: possibly…

      Flickr group: there are 42,000 images curated from nearly a million submissions at this point; I’ve tightened up curation massively from the early days 🙂

  19. One observation: most forums are based on current events, whether along the lines of “this camera was just released, let’s discuss,” “here’s a picture I just took,” or “I’m facing this challenge/problem/difficulty, how do I solve it as soon as possible?” The most interesting content here has always been related to topics rather than times. This lends itself better to a structured organization than to a temporal flow. So: how about something wiki-ish? I suspect adding a bit of structure would improve the accessibility of existing content, relieve Ming of some of the less desirable tasks (for his interests — might be more desirable for others), and create opportunities to develop new commercial content based on the same or similar continuing work product. Or, at least, de-emphasizing “what’s most recent” in favor of “what’s most topical.”

    Another observation: if mingthein.com needs to be more profitable, the choice of how to manage the “crowd” ought to be informed by existing revenue streams. Identifying the path that customers take from discovering the site to entering payment info might be a crucial piece of information. I’m not advocating for using profit as the one and only, or even the most important, metric for future development, rather saying that keeping Ming financially as well as personally motivated to continue generating exceptional content is important to me and, I suspect, many other lurkers. But I don’t know how the economics of mingthein.com currently work, so I’m not sure I am well positioned to advise on this matter.

    • Good point re. current events: that’s where I’ll post an editorial. But it doesn’t make sense to interrupt the underlying flow (at least, if articles are read in sequence) to be reactionary.

      There are no real economics: this is a labor of love. My gains are intangible: friends, experiences, clarity of thought and improvement in creative output from having to write and discuss. That wasn’t the point, and making it economic-driven often has not worked so well – so that’s been scaled back heavily to just providing what is most frequently asked for (some teaching material, the odd bag etc.) to cover costs of making content and bandwidth.

  20. The Steve Huff model allows for a lot of guest posts of varying quality and also allows comments like the stream above. Seems the least risky next step, as it is reversible. He has a different business model, though, which is more heavily advertising and click-through sales based.

    • There’s also unfortunately (or fortunately) significant dilution from the early days. I actually suspect his rationale for subcontracting wasn’t advertising so much as the much greater success of huffparanormal.com…

  21. Frank Sobol says:

    I will echo what many others have said–I read for your insights and perspectives. I started reading your site for your gear reviews. Before long I noticed that you offered something more useful to me–thoughts on ways to think about taking a photograph; i.e., the technical aspect of using a camera to capture an idea. Over time, I became aware that, more and more, I was looking for your thoughts on the art and aesthetics–not on the capture but on the realization of an idea in a photograph. So it is your thoughts and perspectives on this latter point that brings me to you site. The evolution of your life’s responsibilities clearly points to needed changes in your activities. In that regard, item #4 would be my preference with minimal emphasis on peripheral topics. Whatever you choose, thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts. Best wishes…Frank

  22. Harry DeYong says:

    I can imagine your situation, a young family and a tremendous amount of work. Maybe less is more, quality is better than quantity.

    • Is the current offering low quality? What would you drop?

      • Harry DeYong says:

        Good heavens, I didn’t mean that. The quality is always excellent. Your site is of such high quality, that even if there were fewer postings, I think most people, like myself, would still constantly check in to see what was new. Perhaps you could lighten the work load by just cutting back a bit.

        • I think that’s sensible, too.

        • Yep. People aren’t going to stop visiting the site if you only post once a week, yet you’ll save some time for your family and probably site costs. If you were to always post on a certain day then regular posters will learn to ‘check in’ on that particular day and not waste your bandwidth checking willy-nilly. From reading comments its obvious that you have an intelligent readership, some of which appear to worship you and your work (for want of a better word). I’m pretty sure we’d accept whatever you ask of us. I suspect one problem is that you actually really enjoy the site and the amount of time you spend on it, and restricting the time you spend on it will upset you!

  23. An attempt by you to cover all that is happening in photography equipment scene, unless you actually use the equipment, would not be very interesting. Many are doing that or trying to do that. My favorite is Lloyd Chambers, but I also can imagine what a job that is to do as much as he does.

    Back when you were using the Nikon system (and others), and all of the various lenses, etc., it was fascinating because I was using the same system and you were deep into each lens and so forth. Recently, that has been more restricted to the Hasselblad cameras, and I am even attempting to join you by getting a copy of the X1D. I never tire of hearing about the equipment you are using and how you use it, no matter what kind it is. However, that too seems to have faded more to background lately. I would like to see the Hasselblad system covered more frequently, even if it is repetitive.

    There is some truth to the fact that you having moved to a very expensive system (comparatively), the idea of walking side by side with similar equipment is not as feasible in this scenario, although I am waiting for my X1D, so I can be in the same ballpark.

    I am a great appreciator of your photos, and you have been very creative in blog after blog of groups of photos or a theme, etc. Ditto for about every technique imaginable. My point is that bringing all of us who use less-expensive systems than Hasselblad with you on your journey is perhaps now more difficult.

    Your blog has always been much more personal than the average, so I hope you keep on sharing with us your trials, tribulations, and experience with whatever you do. It is not just photography we are interested in following, but you too. If you can pass off some of this to a group of us who are now readers, fine. I am sure we collectively have something to offer too, but I note that making such a move reminds me of the old game of Pick-Up-Sticks, where each stick in the pile has to be very, very carefully removed, one-by-one, or the game does not work. I do believe that you are at a crossroads (or a high mountain pass) and about to move into a new era. I, for one, will do my best to stay tuned.

    • “An attempt by you to cover all that is happening in photography equipment scene, unless you actually use the equipment, would not be very interesting. Many are doing that or trying to do that. My favorite is Lloyd Chambers, but I also can imagine what a job that is to do as much as he does.”
      Agreed: but for Lloyd, it’s both a full time job, and income earner. It isn’t for me – that’s a huge difference. Lloyd does not have commercial photography making up the vast majority of his income; conversely, reviewing costs me money directly because the gear has to be bought (and even if resold there’s a loss afterwards) and opportunity cost.

      Hasselblad: I’m not sure what else there is to say, to be honest: I’ve covered the lenses and the current bodies which I have access to – the X1D is in such short supply I don’t even have a camera at the moment, so there’s nothing to review. Fact is, MF hardware is simply nowhere near as diverse and even less accessible. It wouldn’t make sense for me to cover Nikon simply because I don’t use it – and on the rare occasions I do, I already have what I need (which has in turn already been covered). There are of course exceptions, like the Olympus E-M1.2 – which I’ve landed up ordering for video work. It simply makes no sense to change what I do professionally and creatively to address an audience that isn’t revenue generating.

      The other reason I’ve moved away from hardware reviews is simply because I don’t see the point: almost everything is ‘more than good enough’, which means it’s high time to address limitations of the operator. The differences you can get from hardware are FAR smaller than self-improvement, and I’d even argue that self improvement is absolutely necessary to extract those differences. That is of course going to be unpopular because it requires work!

      We’re definitely at a high mountain pass moment – I’m trying to figure out now a) how to cross it without falling off; b) how to perhaps do it and have a double win by providing something else for the audience at the same time, and c) alter things to match my current state of creativity and far less focus on gear.

      After all, photography is still about the pictures…

      • You wrote “After all, photography is still about the pictures…” Of course, but the pictures are always the result of the process. Therefore, something I realized through my own work is that focusing on the process is what lasts. The truth is in the process and that truth-in-process is what lasts and thereby is the future, because it will last until then.

        It is like the Tibetan Buddhists with their elaborate sand-mandala offerings. It’s the “giving,” the ‘process’ of offering itself, that is the mandala, not the finished sand mandala, i.e. not the gift, but the giving. In other words, beyond the mechanics of photography (which will become routine), is the fertile (and timeless) world of our immersion in the process itself. IMO, it is here that the realization of photography (in the future) will take place. The Tibetans call this “Liberation through Seeing.”

        • I’m not sure the creative process and the technical process are the same thing, though?

          • I may not have phrased it well. The technical process is not the same thing as the creative process, but they can be related. In a way, technique is the result of inspiration, kind of the residue… what remains when true inspiration visits us.

            The creative process (when active) animates or reanimates the technical process. If you have ever seen real ballet, you will know what I am referring to. I once saw Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyne dance “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” with the Royal Ballet. Getting inside the choreography to the point of fulling animating it (making it come alive) was profound to witness. So, what I was trying to express earlier could be called full realization of technique – full immersion beyond simple conceptuality in the process.

  24. You run a first class blog and one wonders at how you maintain your productivity level, both professionally and blog-wise, not to mention your private life. It’s good that you’re addressing this.

    I find your blog compelling for several reasons. The first is your philosophy and how you see as a photographer as expressed through your images and in writing which are stimulating and encourage me in new directions – you’ve helped me both to see things I might have missed and to see others in new ways.

    I feel your approach to gear reviews is just about right – focusing on what is of interest to you, the gear your use or are considering. I’m delighted when those subjects match my interests but even the others are interesting to know and expand one’s view. I may not “need” a medium format digital camera, or an OTUS, but appreciate them and enjoy learning about those worlds. And one never knows…

    I also have found your “how to” essays helpful – examples are your approaches to work flow and archiving.

    Whatever you decide upon has to work for you – satisfying your personal goals while honoring your limitations (like time). One solution might be to more or less continue on as your have been doing, maintaining the good stuff while cutting back on the quantity to what you can manage, even way back if necessary. Another might to be very selective in choosing when to reply.

    • “You run a first class blog and one wonders at how you maintain your productivity level, both professionally and blog-wise, not to mention your private life. It’s good that you’re addressing this.”
      Thank you. The short answer is, it was always a stretch, and I though it could last indefinitely, but reality is unfortunately starting to hit – I’m having to find a solution because I think I may be hitting – shock horror – a physical limit.

      I have actually cut back on replies already (this thread excepted) 🙂

      Thing is, I’m trying to figure out if the required systemic change can also be turned into something the audience wants – sounds like this is not the case for the most part, which is actually surprising…

  25. Hi, Ming,
    Family vs work/hobby is an important issue that every family person faces at some time. This is tough. Like many others suggested, I would keep the quality of the posts the same but spend more time with the family. Twenty one month old is a very interesting age, and if it is missed, it would be very hard or even impossible to catch up. If your posts are less frequent, the readers will understand. Ferrari do not come off the conveyer with the same frequency as Honda Civics but it does not decrease their value. Take care of the family first, assess how much time you can spend on the blog without depriving yourself and your family, and spend this allotted time on quality posts. Keep it free and ignore trolls.
    I hope this makes sense.

    • Yes it does, thanks. The development leaps in a toddler are astounding – two weeks ago she was mostly not that coherent. Yesterday, I spoke to her on the phone for at least 20 sentences, and she made perfect sense. Very, very surreal.

  26. I would agree that the others who have said that the main draw of the site is your clear and considered thought and writing. Actually given the time restraints in my life and the thought that goes in to reading one of your articles, you’re actually posting a little too often for me to keep up! I think you’re at 2 posts a week, I think 1.5 a week is about what I can handle.

    On the notion of a forum, I think the comments here work well to some extent. Especially as the set up makes me feel as if I am commenting on your article, which affords a certain amount of respect. I have found that I self censor quite a lot, but I think that’s out of concern for my own coherence. Something that may also help with the respectful attitude here is that a lot of people seem to post under their real names, or with names that link to websites.

    • I’m at 3 posts/week in an even week and 4 in an odd week – perhaps that can be cut down to one every three days instead of every other day. I think that may just be infrequent enough to put people off though; I started this to be something I’d want to read, and the attraction of new content every time you visit (‘something undiscovered’) is definitely part of the draw.

      Self censor less, you’re plenty coherent for me 🙂

      Names and websites are required for comments – this is deliberate. As moderator I can see emails and IP addresses too, which I think further helps.

  27. One vote for the invitation only / limited/ paid forum – I think you could include all alumni subscribers to your workflow and have enough people to start with! Charging a token amount (5 dollars a year?) would be enough to weed out the drive by posters. Maybe allow as well people who post regularly to your flickr group or something like that? I really think this would be a great way to build a community.
    One comment on the current format, having threaded comments more or less forces you to respond individually to every comment and discourges commentators from forming long discussions without you. Another blog I read (on a totally different topic) is here http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/ – notice how the comments go into the high hundreds on some topics without the original author needing to post more than every 40 or 50 comments. Yes, it makes the format a little harder to read, but it takes some of the strain off your back! If you added a forum format where threads rise to the top if commented on, and I think it would be quite a bit less work, plus it might encourage slower but deeper conversations on the current “less popular” topics – I know there are posts of yours I’ve read then gone away to think about, and because you’ve posted more when I return I forget to comment on the older posts….
    Personally I don’t think collaborator articles will work – I suspect you’d end up spending almost as long curating articles as you would writing them yourself… not that you’re a perfectionist at all 😉

    • “If you added a forum format where threads rise to the top if commented on”
      Unfortunately, there’s no way to do that with the current back end machinery: most recent comments rise to the top within a post, but I have no way of reshuffling the posting order to match comment activity. And I’m not sure I’d want to, either, because invariably it will probably mean some gear review from five years ago gets dragged out and a comment about something pre-firmware fix gets taken out of context. You know the internet 🙂

      I may do more reposting of old articles with discussion points added at the end…

      Good point about editing of collaborator articles – that hadn’t occurred to me.

  28. Maybe you can create a forum but have locked down topics so you’re broadly guiding the discussion and leaving it up the users to actually discuss things. I like your current setup but you end up answering most replies whereas in a forum you could chip in here and there with some replies 🙂 maybe like the James Allen on F1 site where he posts an article and let’s people thrash it out but he will chime in sometimes too. So maybe just a slight re-jig of your current comments setup is all that’s needed.

  29. My impression is that you post a lot more than many other photography sites. So here is a question: if for the next two or three months you halved your number of new posts, what would this do for site traffic and the site’s value, however you assess it, and against that what would it do for your free time and peace of mind? In other words, can you trade off come stabilise what you already have before changing anything? Then, when/if you do decide on changes, you might have a clearer idea of where your red lines are on time, money, life versus commitments online.

    • I think the only way to find out is to do it – it may have no impact, or it may be significant because part of the appeal is my prolificness and consistency – and if I slow down – a lot of the audience may assume I’ve left the building.

  30. Unless I’m missing something, your site seems to have the least amount of rudeness and petulance, of all of the free sites. Mirrorlessons being second and Huff a close third. HaHa…just kidding, he gets hammered, definitely the antithesis of MT. Easy to deduce that content presented in a more intellectual format is a self-policing method. I’m sure it’s maddening for a sub-80 knuckle dragger to read here. I’d say keep it the same as you are still tops in the “not as many a______s department. Now, if only you could add more gear evals and keep it that way? …I know, I’m dreaming 🙂

    • I think it’s the absence of gear reviews that keeps it this way 😉

      • I disagree. Your gear reviews are some of the best of there, because you only (or at least used to) review what you used and liked, rather than trying to do it all and be everything to everybody. I still would like to hear what you are thinking about new cameras, like the Fuji GFX. I am losing hope with Hasselblad and thinking of switching to GFX. I know you are not in the innermost circle with Hasselblad, but we still don’t have any straight talk on what the heck is really happening, unless it is as simple as scaling production.

        • Well, that’s part of the problem: if I don’t toe the company line, I don’t get access to gear, and I can’t afford to buy and spend time testing what I don’t use. This was the subject of an earlier poll on reviews – the conclusion was basically ‘we are entitled to have you to continue at your own time and expense’.

          Hasselblad: I will find out soon enough, as I’ve got meetings at HQ week. I do believe it’s a production scaling thing as I know of a number of people who’ve taken delivery of their X1Ds.

          • Have you any comments on the Fuji GFX, which except for haptics and ergonomics, looks very well made to me. I have to decide pretty soon. I can always send the X1D back to B&H, if for some reason it does not add up to what I imagine it to be. I do like the idea of the better EVF on the GFX, the possibility of mounting Otus, and I since I am not a flash user (for the most part), I am not clear what the leaf-shutter is good for on (for my still-life work in natural life) the X1D. Does the leaf shutter do anything for the non-flash user or, should I be thinking of using a light fill flash, and would the leaf shutter help with that. I am ignorant in this.

            • “…which except for haptics and ergonomics, looks very well made to me.”
              But, this is a problem given performance is actually the smallest separator of the 50MP cameras…

              A leaf shutter has less vibration than an FP shutter because the blades close and open radially – the shock cancels out symmetrically. FP shutters move all at once in one direction. For handheld work and critical sharpness, this definitely makes a difference – without the mirror and auxiliary curtain of the H-series, I can handhold the X1D to about 1-1.5 stops slower with the same critical sharpness.

              As for flash sync – it means you can better control how much ambient light is admitted vs flash especially under bright conditions, since aperture is already determining DOF and you can’t use this to cut light – a shorter shutter speed with flash synchronisation is the only way to ‘overpower the sun’.

          • Have you considered something like the daringfireball model in terms of revenue?
            We all know Gruber’s biases/preferences, but we still go there for his reviews & insight.
            He runs very lightweight ads of things he would generally have recommended anyway.
            Comes in the form of a “sponsored post” ~1-2 times per week.
            Many ads are in the form of free trial / discount code for some Mac nerd related software/service.

            This could work for a niche higher end photo blogger like you.. where you mostly speak of technique, vision and the occasional hardware review.
            If you attract sponsorship by software/services/accessories, you can avoid review/sponsorship overlap.

            • I ran the math once: the extra admin just wasn’t worthwhile even in the best case scenario after counting the likely attrition from the paywall. I know a lot of LL readers who simply didn’t bother after they charged subscription – my guess from talking to people is something like 90% of the readership disappeared; and when it’s the total headline number that attracts advertisers in the first place – that doesn’t work.

  31. May I offer a suggestion/clarification that might help you in deciding which option of the above is more viable?
    I believe that first of all, you and only you have to decide whether what you want to do will be a one-man effort or a team effort with collaborators/moderators.

  32. I have been on a lot of photography email lists and have turned them all off except two, one of which is this one. The quality of posts here is exceptional both in scope and knowledge, and I echo those who say: keep it as it is.
    Your writing is (at least in my experience) exceptionally prolific and I don’t always manage to read every post – if time is becoming a problem, then I would for me be happy with less posts, keeping the same high standard.
    Your dedication is extraordinary and I can only say thank you for being an exception in the world of photography.

  33. There’s quite a few interesting thoughts and comments on this already (which goes to prove your point in the opening paragraph 🙂 ). I don’t bring much blogging/forum moderating experience to the table but I agree that the USP for this blog is you and that’s not something that you or anyone else can replicate.

    I think the immediate avenue available to you is the discussion posts (#4). It requires very little change in structure of the site and can be implemented as soon as you’d like.

    #3 is the next thing I’d look at. The one contributor article you had, I believe by a Dr. P.L was quite insightful and interesting to read, so maybe you could restrict contributor posts to a couple a month for starters. It isn’t important that they be regular contributors so much as they have something of value to add. The challenge here is to be able to provide contributors a voice (including their style of writing/communication) without too much moderation on your part, which requires that the contributors themselves be passionate and willing to push themselves to create the quality of content this site is known for.

    Forums, either open or invite-only are probably too big a change for you to undertake right now. And they need a lot of thought on how to mitigate the issues related with them such as over-moderation, group think, having it grow too big to control effectively. You could always spin off a forum down the road after implementing #3 with your contributors acting as moderators too. That way many of the users will know what to expect as well.

    • The contribution post was a mixed bag: which is why we didn’t do it again, and he took up a new fellowship in the US so photography took a very distant back seat. I added in #3 as an obvious solution, but not one that I see as being easily implementable in practice.

      • It’s difficult because the primary focus of this blog has never been gear or ‘How To’ tutorials but to encourage a discussion on photography as art and philosophy and it’s subjective nature. The Technique stuff was always subservient to that. You basically deal with a very subjective side of photography as you mentioned but the deeper we go down this rabbit hole, the more abstract the concepts and ideas under discussion become and not everyone can convert abstract thought into a blog post.

        So maybe start with #4 with an eye on #3 to see if there’s anyone you know who can make that leap.

        • Yes – I had to set the stage and define the language before I could ask the question; it’s just that setting the stage was not as simple as I thought (and explains why almost nobody else ever asked the question).

          • Interestingly, that also means that a forum may never be viable. A user can’t start a discussion if they can’t ask the questions themselves and formulate the words required to set the stage for discussion.

  34. Hi Ming
    You are a very prolific poster, so to save your time consider doing less, I regularly miss/don’t read posts when I get busy.
    One other consideration could be to not have comments on some posts, photo essays for example, the comments are often less of a discussion than for your essays. This will mean missing out on some thoughtful responses (and a lot of congratulations), however if you are trying to save time and optimise discussion then something has to give. One final suggestion for your existing site is to open comments a few days after posting, this will hopefully encourage a second reading and less but better comments, call that one ‘slow internet movement’ as per the slow food movement.

    There will always be some linear and branching nature to internet forum/discussions, and when you get a lot of response/ participation, a lot of repetition comes in and it loses some flow. If you can figure out a way to avoid this and yet allow for lots of nuances then it will be a winner.

    One final thought on running discussion forum based content, is to do it in private with some selected ‘thought leaders’ (so not me), then post a summary of the discussion as an essay. One of your greatest writing skills is clarity without over simplification or complication, I could think of no one better to write a forum discussion summary post.

    Best regards Noel

    • “One other consideration could be to not have comments on some posts, photo essays for example, the comments are often less of a discussion than for your essays. “
      Actually, that’s a great idea…I need to see if the back end machinery allows me to selectively activate comments by post…

  35. “There’s no free lunch.” I have some experience in all of this, including having email in 1979, and doing professional work on the Internet before the World-Wide Web existed, etc. I ran two of CompuServe’s most popular forums (music and film) early on, and hundreds of fora for Microsoft during the MSN days, and so on.

    I also float around on several of the more popular photography forums. I have yet to see a small dedicated group of moderators not get ingrown, rife with cronyism, and in some cases overly nationalistic. There is also the consideration that photography attracts a wide spectrum of types, some of them just plain crude. Photography is not particularly academic or socially effete. It is hard to make a living with photos and only certain types seem to survive. And, if we are looking for someone like our self, that is never a good sign. We should know the nature of the self by now. The Self does not necessarily play well with others.

    I was drawn to this site by your photographic images, and secondarily by your take on equipment, and that last point has kind of settled into the Hasselblad system recently. The current format, IMO, is excellent. None of the other options you suggest sound viable to me.

    And if I can get more personal, here is my experience. I blog every day (almost always) to 5000 readers, and have done this since around 2009, and what I have found is that blogging for me is a discipline, a kind of thermometer by which I keep tabs on myself. Trying to be different for difference sake alone never works for me. Repetition is inevitable and not to be avoided. I feel it is (aside from being unavoidable) natural and important. There is nothing wrong with repeating the theme story from many viewpoints. That’s how we learn.

    So, bottom line is that while I hope to be of use to others in what I blog about, I do it for myself, for my own sanity, and for no other sensible reason. The key, for me, is that I like to write. More than that, the clarity of mind attained through good writing can be difficult to attain in any other way, aside perhaps from actually going on a photo shoot.

    I certainly willattempt to support whatever you come up with, but I doubt (and can’t imagine) any of the other scenarios working out. Charging a fee is not usually that successful and skews the whole operation toward money, etc. I feel you have it right now where you want it. It may be, as you point out, that you (with a family and growing responsibilities) don’t have time to maintain the level you have up to this point. Or, perhaps you are getting older and interest is flagging a bit. You are creative, so you may be able to be creative in morphing this site in this or that direction.

    You can’t replace what there is only one of, and in this case that is you. Having a team that you monitor, like any company team, is another whole ball of wax. You also have kind of covered the waterfront, so to speak, of topics and, as mentioned, there is no harm going over the same ground twice or many times.

    I find, in my own blogging, that I have little runs of creativity, like anything else, and if I run out of ideas, the best thing is to just a wait a day or two, and tread water in the meantime. Blogging is not like writing a dictionary, going from A to Z, but rather about spontaneity, oneself staying fresh, in which case everything we write is fresh. In my opinion, which I have voiced in many places, is that you are the all-around best photographer I am aware of. And, like myself, you are a bit of a philosopher, which makes it even better. Stay with it, if you can.

    • Good points – but they don’t address the simple lack of time problem. It’s not so much an interest problem as just fatigue from insufficient sleep and a hyperactive 21-month old. There is a finite amount sleep one can replace with coffee!

      The simple reality is I may have to post less often – I don’t know if there are any real viable alternatives to that which preserve all the good stuff.

      • That’s what I would suggest, post less often, but keep the quality. As for trying to cover the areas you are not knowledgeable of (like drones, etc.), my advice is: don’t. The areas you know are enough. Watering it down or trying to cover it all is, pretty much by definition, hopeless and a wrong turn, IMO. As I see it, the photo forums have degenerated from what they were some years ago. Your take on all this is as good as it gets. I raised four kids and ran a rather large company, but I insisted on working at home, even though I had a fantastic office at the company. As mentioned, the question I would ask is how necessary is this blog for your own state of mind?

        • “As for trying to cover the areas you are not knowledgeable of (like drones, etc.), my advice is: don’t.”
          I have no intention to do so personally, but it may be interesting to have somebody who does.

          “As mentioned, the question I would ask is how necessary is this blog for your own state of mind?”
          A good question, and one I honestly don’t know the answer to. If the necessity is merely to write, which I do enjoy and find helps my own thinking process around creating a shot – I don’t need to publish it. I suspect the answer of ‘not that important’ is more concerning than ‘very’; but to the audience, it matters not at all. 🙂

          • In my experience, ego or self is not something to be denied, but a natural component of who we are. Throwing that dog a bone by publically blogging, if only to close the feedback loop is, in my opinion, an important ingredient of why I blog. So, not blogging at all would signal a pretty big change, at least for me. I blog for the clarity of mind it brings by writing, but also to check my own reactions to comments and thus maintain some sort of equilibrium.

            • I wonder if our need to publish (and directly or indirectly seek public affirmation) is an expression confidence or lack of – could be either. I also wonder if the audience is rather self-selecting: you may disagree and leave, or you may agree and spur on the author. Is this the intended outcome?

              …And in one jump we’ve gone from photographic fora and contributors to the psychology of self. 😛

        • John Brady says:

          Hi Michael, I couldn’t agree more!

      • L. Ron Hubbard says:

        Not enough sleep soon leads to significant health problems. There is simply no way you should in any way allow this site or any other activity to impact your health in a negative way. You need to step back and be with family more. Dropping your post count by 30% or so will in NO way negatively impact your meaningful readers. They will easily understand. Those who dont arent worth your effort.

  36. Junaid Rahim says:

    I’d try a mix of 3 and 4. I think people may collaborator articles jarring, but only because we’ve been spoilt by the breadth of content you alone have been generating, but different viewpoints are good. You are also still curating anything that would get posted here – getting over the first collaborator post will be the hardest, from there I think you’d find a rhythm.

    As for 4 – I think it’s workable, but I reckon as soon as you start sketching thoughts you’d be itching to elaborate more which in turn may defeat the object?

    On a final note – I’m only 3 months into my blogging journey with 2 articles a week and it so tough to maintain content when trying to start up your own business. I am very impressed it’s taken so long to get to this inevitable stage – a testament to the hard work you’ve put in over all these years Ming 🙂

    • Well, I started out with three articles a day to build the content archive/ library 🙂

      • Junaid Rahim says:

        Ah the days when you were young 😉

        I’d seriously consider 3 – but I have no idea if you know anyone who’d you want write for the blog. Unfortunately most photography writers/sites tend to devolve into gear so quickly….

  37. I have to agree that your writing and viewpoint is what generates interest in the site. Mine, at least!

    #4 seems like it could certainly be worth a trial. It would be easy to implement without even more time invested up front.

  38. janhettenkofer says:

    In my opinion this site is already “moderated” by the continuously high quality of the posts you put out. Before posting a comment, everyone has to read through your post. Once your readers get to the bottom, they are already engaged in a thought deeper than “X-is-better-than-y-and-yo-momma-so-fat”.
    So, even though it’s incredibly selfish, I’d love to see this site evolve in a way that retains this input from “the top”. One idea I’d like to add is a mix between suggestions 3 and 4: to scale back on the time this site consumes for you, add a few select contributors, but keep the comprehensive style. Then – instead of traditional comments – make each post the “topic” of a forum page.

    • I’m actually wondering whether there’s that much difference anyway between a typical moderated forum structure and the comments here – perhaps not.

      Perhaps one of the new discussion topics can be an inaugural “You-momma (camera)-so-fat-(not as good as Y)’ contest 😉

      • janhettenkofer says:

        The one difference I was thinking about was that a more “forum-like” structure would encourage discussion beyond the publication of the next article. So more a psychological difference, really. The more I think it through, the more I begin to appreciate your dilemma.
        Good idea for the first forum post – this would be a page to refer to if things in other threads turn sour…

  39. family make all perfect

  40. I wonder if there are any hybrid platforms that allow you, or perhaps an occasional guest, to post, but also support active discussions and allow current posts to float to the top if one so chooses. This might allow the conversations to continue a bit more easily without you, as well as keep popular discussions at the top of the heap.

    Regarding forums, there are three where I participate where folks are reasonably well-behaved and do not need much moderation. Setting the “tone at the top” to let folks know that civil behavior is expected might work a bit better than the current arrangement as forums have profiles and members are a bit better known by the information that accompanies their avatar and can easily be seen by others (e.g. date joined, number of posts, etc.). It is not a full-proof solution, but it might get you farther than you think with just a handful of moderators (and perhaps require folks to provide some type of link to a place where they write or post images so they are just a bit less anonymous).

    The good thing is that you can keep this site going while you try out some alternatives, so it is not an all or nothing decision as you move forward.

    Good luck,

    –Ken

    • Hmm, good question: how would we decide what to promote though? I suppose that might have to be talking points + manual stickies in the sidebar or something.

      Any forums you can think of as good examples of behaviour to follow?

      No, it’s not all or nothing at all – but I’m trying to figure out how to continue keeping the audience engaged and delivering something different as demands on my time increase significantly because of family…

  41. Can’t help you with this one. I thought, your blog is fine as it is, though.

  42. It ain’t broke.

  43. gnarlydognews says:

    I usually stay away from a lot of Forums that aren’t moderated for the reasons you mentioned. Moderations are VERY necessary in my opinion but maybe they don’t have to be all bearing on your responsibility so you have to read each and every entry.
    How about a system where the very members participating decide what is not acceptable? I see a few Forums that have “alert moderator” buttons… a few too many alerts and you step in and see if it is worth banning the individual?
    As for what is NOT acceptable? simple: personal attacks.
    Anybody calling names or questioning others because they don’t agree with their view and then resort to unrelated comments and nastiness are in my book bad reading material.
    Wish you success with your new direction

    • Thanks. The whole question of ‘what constitutes personal’ can be subjective and potentially touchy, so I’m a little hesitant – either it’s fully moderated (now) or not at all (um, other sites.)

  44. Skip #1, it’s been done, readers come here for you.

    #2 is interesting, though the challenge of course is how it scales. Social networks require a critical mass of some sort, you likely don’t have the time to hand-pick invitees.. and self-selecting via payment may yield too few.. or be an insufficient filter (jerks have money too).
    If you can make it work it could be neat, but very hard. It will most likely turn out low volume, and.. as most forums do.. gear centric.

    Maybe add #4 to your existing format. #3 if it was very few and far between.. say 1 or 2 posts per month at most. Maybe with a regular partner or two, so it’s not just a revolving door of “others” your readers are unfamiliar with.

    • #3 would definitely be with a regular set of contributors; no point in having random people. I would think they’d offer significant value through an alternate point of view.

      #4 will come… 🙂

  45. The draw and value of this site is you. Both will suffer if diluted. Individual genius does not scale.

    • Darn! Back to the cloning machine… 🙂

      • Until the Ming-o-matic cloning machine is available I think you should charge a subscription fee. Post a few free articles like Shawn Reid and Lloyd Chambers. I understand your hesitancy but it is the simplest solution and is a pseudo-reversible change in strategy.

        • Not sure about the reversibility: people don’t come back once they leave.

          • No they probably don’t return but new people will come. Furthermore of what economic value are readers so little invested in your work they are unwilling to support it? A year long experiment would clarify the viability of the approach. Decision by polls and committee and trying to please everyone almost certainly prove ruinous. Decide what your time is worth, estimate the retention rate, calculate a subscription rate and pull the trigger. The downside risk seems minimal and appears the simplest option.

        • Yeah, I used to get the ‘clone yourself yet?’ question all the time while running two camera stores and a commercial film lab in the 90’s.
          So, you don’t want to run a review site [not asking, just enthusiastically reaffirming….]; there are no more magazine gigs, as terrific as you would have been; you’re an airplane ride from any commercial job, as few and far between as they are [and again, as paramount as you are at that]; I’m left with one suggestion… Pick fantastic destinations and run high-end workshops for the well-heeled as often as you can stand to be away from your family. My son is 12 mos, I understand. Maybe you actually relocate once, closer to your favorite area of the world. Use those trips to suggest and inform, and pay for, your posts. Easy peasy. 😉 Yes, there are plenty of others doing this, but your quite unparalleled ability, CV, body of work, and all the rest will enable you to carve out a niche. All the best.

        • I think the hybrid models will get very popular once micropayment services are more broadly used and trusted. It still needs to become more convenient (one-click shopping) and 1-2 global de-facto standards need to emerge. Until then, any paywall is bound to chase off most visitors.

          Ideally most of the audience would purchase your videos and/or donate, but I doubt there’s any easy way to increase revenue from where it stands today.

          The last option to drive up topline is, of course, ads, but that doesn’t fit very well with the current concept & the audience may react badly, even if it’s just a single banner per page…

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  1. […] I’d like to say a huge thank you to everybody who contributed in the comments to the previous discussion – your ideas and support have been most helpful in clarifying my own thoughts. Fundamentally, […]

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