Forum thinking, part II

H51-B0020994 copy
Clarity at dusk

Firstly, 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, the challenge is really one of time: how can I balance off increasing family demands against the site (which in many ways is really another child) and perhaps at the same time, make changes that both buy me time and give you something more? It isn’t a question of monetisation because all of those options require more administrative time and don’t buy time elsewhere. Having had some further time to think, here’s what I think we’ll do going forward:

Status quo – for the time being
It’s clear that the audience likes things the way they are: this is understandable, but also somewhat self reinforcing (since you can’t want what you haven’t seen or don’t know about, and you’d have already left if you were aware and it existed otherwise). This means the direction of content and structure of posts and schedule will stay for the time being. Being prolific I think is part of what I do: I need to experiment and shoot and ruminate a lot to produce what I produce, and changing that will of course change the output – which is not what I want. I will try to maintain the frequency for as long as possible, but at some point in future, it’s likely I may cut down from the current average 3.5 posts/ week (once every alternate day) to 2.5 (once every three days), or make one post out of three something a little quicker/lighter. This also gives way to…

A new discussion format
The ‘third post’ will likely be some open thoughts on a current topic to encourage further discussion in the comments. I would rather not implement a forum or system to promote popular posts at this time because it goes against the idea of currency and immediacy – there’s no point dredging up something two years later; if it’s significant, it merits a new post. Fora will simply increase my workload in moderation and administration and probably not really offer the additional interactivity I was hoping for, since it seems that most readers are here for guided discussion.

Topic spread
I agree with the suggestion of covering a broader range of topics – beyond photography, anything that can be tangentially related to the visual medium or human psychology is fair game, I think. I will aim to present more of this in future, but it may be a while as I need to get my own knowledge up to par first -which means putting some order to my own haphazard personal erudition quest so far in this direction. If anybody has any ideas on what they’d like to see discussed, I’m all ears – please either leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Reviews
Will still not be making a comeback in any major or regular way. This was a direction I decided on switching to medium format, for two reasons: firstly, though they do drive traffic, the traffic tends to be composed of a lot of transient and unsavoury elements that do nothing for the community. On top of that, these are the most time consuming element of content production, and being based here, downright costly: I have to buy everything I review if I am to retain any editorial independence.

More importantly though, I truly believe that we have passed the ‘sufficiency singularity’ and everything/anything is more than ‘good enough’: pick your poison, and get on with it. Moreover, the differences and gains are so small that often in order to extract them, a significant increase in operator skill (often also coupled with specific shooting conditions) is required. This unexpectedly hit home recently when I shot the H6D-100 for the first time, in Tokyo: another level up, and I’m not sure I can extract 100% of the performance over as wide an envelope as I was previously doing with the H5D-50 (or D810, or E-M1.2 etc.). I also made some of my favourite images, period, with a lowly Canon 100D during that trip.

Bottom line: we are the limiting factor to better photographs by a significant margin now, not our gear. Isn’t it high time we reviewed and improved our thinking?

Subscriptions
Which brings me to the final point: as much as I appreciate the idea of a paid model, and financial support from the readership in return for me providing you with education, knowledge and content – the main site is not something I can or will charge for, because the underlying aim has always been to provide education. It also doesn’t solve the main problem of not having enough time at the right times, of course.

If you would like to support the creation of content and the site, I’d like to give you even more in return, again, in the form of education and entertainment – be it workshop videos, the Weekly Workflow and Critique, or the Email School.

And lastly…
I’ve often been asked to simply drop things that don’t make sense either financially or creatively or otherwise; I have come to realise that what I do now is entirely codependent on everything else: the site gives me an outlet for writing (another creative pursuit) and is motivation to formalise and structure thoughts around everything image-related. Unquestionably, this leads to a different creative direction and the making of different images, which in turn affects commercial commissions and professional work – mostly not directly, though I have had some significant clients (and the most interesting jobs) straight from the reader group.

In a lot of ways, my current position and thinking in photography is heavily dependent on the site, in that it forces me to know myself better. I was asked in the comments “how necessary is this blog for your own state of mind?”: the answer I wanted to give is not necessary for personal sanity, but important and significant for creative development. And I think that sums things up as a very good example of why I’m trying to do everything I can to keep things going here: if I wasn’t asked the question, I wouldn’t have an answer – or the clarity of position that comes with it. MT

__________________

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

Comments

  1. Hi Ming
    Thank you for this site. Longish time ago you helped me once by answering my novice question very quickly and profoundly. (Although I admit I did not follow – to file and shim focusing screen was above my capabilities and luckily enough, D800e came along anyway. So D200 went to the museum.) Since then – when at home, I travel pretty often – I am regular reader of yours and occasional Student to your educational videos. Until now, I was not able to take the plunge and enroll to your Email School – as a retiree I have rather busy schedule ;-). Additionally, I am still on the search what and when to concentrate on. Rather difficult, not only regarding motives, but media (film/digital/formats) and (digital) technique too. So, at this time all I want to say is that I am willing to pay something like a monthly obolus should it be your wish. I do that at Luminous Landscape and with the contents of your site this would be more than justified! Take care and please carry on. It is fascinating to watch your way and learn from it.
    (Please bear with my english, my mother tongue and the language of the county I live are both different, son no one is perfect.)

  2. Hey Ming, I just wanted to say that there are at least some of us out there who love what you write, but read everything through an RSS reader and can’t/won’t dedicate the time to read the comments or engage the community here. Maybe we’re missing out on much of what the site has to offer, but what you write alone is usually worth reading. Thanks!

  3. Glad to hear you’re continuing, the internet would be a worse place without you regularly posting!
    I’m curious actually whether some posts take more time than others, maybe you could post photoessays or collections during the week and have a weekly talking point at the weekend with a longer article or something and more discussion? Or do you find curating photos to post takes as long as writing text?
    Incidentally if you are thinking of producing another video, could I put a vote in for something focused on landscapes? I’m getting a handle on what to look for in urban / street photos (even if I don’t always achieve it) but I still find making interesting rural landscape photos a bit of a struggle…

    • The psychology/philosophy-based ones are the longest – those require some research and sitting time. Curating images is faster if I have them – if not, I’ve got to go out and shoot. But reviews are the worst – several days to aw eek depending on complexity of hardware and any anomalous initial findings.

      • … and the reviews produce the most abuse. Much as I’d like to hear your opinion of the Fuji GFX, I completely understand why reviews are really not worth your time!

        • Isn’t going to happen while the principals in Malaysia only lend gear to sycophants (or I have to buy expensive stuff I don’t need or have any interest in), the trolls will find fault and personally insult you for anything you say, and time is already in short supply…

  4. “Bottom line: we are the limiting factor to better photographs by a significant margin now, not our gear. Isn’t it high time we reviewed and improved our thinking?”

    Well said. I’m as enamored with shiny new gear as anyone, but I’ll also be the first to admit that spending $2000 on another lens has little impact on my images, while spending 20 hours on education can completely transform them. Perhaps you could capitalize on the review traffic with headlines for each new piece of gear that redirect to your post on sufficiency. 🙂

  5. I relate to your concept of the “Sufficiency Singularity” to liberate myself from the tyranny of chasing the elusive “good enough” with compulsive gear acquisition. A simple application of the Ishikawa or fishbone diagram pinpoints “Man,” i.e. my operator skill, as the weakest link in the 6 M’s contributing to quality: Man, Machine, Method, Material, Measurement, Mother Nature. Your site is my primary educational and inspirational resource; thank you.

  6. Ming – I believe you want to focus on other things instead of gear reviews, but I would really like to read your review of the new Fuji medium format camera. I don’t think I’m the only one. Any chance of you reviewing it?

    • No, sorry. As I’ve said many times before: in Malaysia, I can only get access to gear if I’m willing to basically be a shill; the camera company reps here aren’t interested in working with you otherwise. If not, I’ve got to buy it, and I’m not doing that unless I need it or can use it. It makes no sense to spend tens of thousands on something for a review.

  7. Jim Suojanen says:

    Time is our most precious commodity. Balancing family, work, community and spirituality has always been difficult. For millennia, work took precedence since the vast majority of us depended on work to produce food to eat. Since the nineteenth century, industrialization freed many in the first and second worlds from this dependence. But billions of years of evolution aren’t overcome easily. Moreover, work in many ways brings meaning to the other areas of our lives. As a physician, my work takes precedence. I rarely have sufficient time to devote to other interests, including my family. My spouse knew this from the beginning. Our children learned this, sometimes the hard way. But my kids are fine; the marriage endures. Human beings are extremely resilient especially if they know they are loved.

    I encourage you to follow your constructive passions especially when you have the youthful energy to accomplish all the amazing things that you do. My sense is that your wife will understand and that your child/children will come to realize that your work helps define who you are as a member of the human family. And I agree that you should make the “Donate” button a bit larger.

    JNSuojanen

    P.S. A while back, I asked about making an adapter for the X1D for the Arcbody. You said “No”. But the folks at Fuji asked a slightly different question and came up with an answer for their GFX 50S:

    https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1311714-REG/fujifilm_16551312_view_camera_adapter_g.html/pageID/accessory

    • I said no because there was no way to synchronise the shutter in the lenses with the camera, and the camera itself lacks a shutter – the Fuji has a shutter in the body.

  8. Harry DeYong says:

    There are some websites, including photographic ones, which have a membership fee. If you want full access, being able to post comments, ask questions etc, a yearly fee is charged. Non-members still have access, but more limited.
    I believe, and it sounds like a number of people agree, that your site has a lot of value, and would be willing to pay a yearly fee to be able to enjoy and learn from it.
    I would.
    And I agree in making the “donate” button more obvious. I didn’t know it was there until it was mentioned in a previous post.

  9. Larry Kincaid says:

    I think your solution works well. I (we) check your site on a regular basis, driven by curiosity and lack of any similar blogs, and then, of course, by the relevance and quality of what’s on your mind. As a viewer/participant, you will not be surprised to hear that it’s the quality of your own photography–and issues it reveals for us–that make this such a successful blog. I cannot tell you how quickly I get out of any website where the photography is just very good to begin with. The quality of your own images leads naturally to the credibility you have and readily maintain here. Hence, we pay attention to your conclusions, ideas, and opinions even if we don’t always agree with some of them. Checking on your latest photography alone is enough to keep us checking in on a regular basis. And then, of course, you allow us to express our own agreement and differences. A short, simple clarification is usually enough.

    We learn a lot from your “free” blog, but also appreciate your also offering a variety of alternatives for training for a reasonable cost. May the ones that require minimum attention on your part (the video tutorials once produced) sell by the millions so there’s no lack of funding to keep you going. “We are the limiting factor to better photographs” has always been true, but the high quality of most digital cameras really has made most discussions of particular products barely relevant. This is sad in a way because we have been excited and motivated over the last 10 years or so (21st century!) by the latest innovations. And their examination and reviews. You’d have to predict a fall-off of interest in all photo blogs as a result. We’ve settled down for a longer run, so what’s the point? Having said that, I would really like to hear your quick review of the recent Leica M10 . . . but quickly realize I already know what you would say based on what you’ve said about the M9, 240, Q, etc. What more could you add given the modest but welcomed improvements? This only reinforces your decision to drop or minimize reviews; others are still doing them anyway. Your opinions on new technologies can easily emerge gradually in your opinion pieces and answers to our questions.

    One more issue is worth mentioning. Children and family are all to easy to describe as an additional “pressure” to add to all the others. Quite the contrary, they are the most desirable and pleasurable way you can spend your time. When my kids had their first children, I hastened to emphasize that at any age you can only experience them today as they are now, “now not later” or some other day because they will be different people as soon as tomorrow, next week, month, year–and so will you. It has to be now as much as possible or you’ll miss out and so with they. And we’ve already heard you say how much you think time is accelerating. It is. Your blog can always wait a little bit. In return, so to speak, my daughter told me after the birth of her first child, “I never knew how much you loved me until I had my own child.” How I wish I had realized this in time to tell my own parents the same thing. [Moreover, I really like the photos of your own family that you share with us from time to time.]

    • Len Capristo says:

      Ming – I appreciate your open approach to sharing not only your thoughts, but also inviting our suggestions in determining your next steps. Unlike other photography sites you offer a “comment” section following each article. It seems to me that the “time drain” is directly related to us – your readers – in posting to the comment section and expecting a PERSONAL reply. We have come to EXPECT a personal response from you for ALL of these posts. That is a model that doesn’t work well for you, nor does it place any responsibility on us to think about your time before asking a question.

      I’m guilty myself by imposing on your time by emailing you about a video training class that you’ve offered and I’ve taken, or some equipment related questions, or something similar. You have gone out of your way to respond, but the question is: should you? Is it reasonable for us to expect you to answer us personally? I think not.

      I believe the comment section is the area that is “marginal” in your work/life balance equation. I appreciate that you get something back from reading reader’s comments, but I don’t think it’s reasonable or sustainable for us as readers to expect a reply to posts made in the comments section. Perhaps the comments section IS your forum, but a POST ONLY forum without expectation of interaction or reply. You can consider having volunteer moderators scan the comments section to ensure that nothing you find objectionable is posted, but other than that safeguard putting your personal energy into replying to posts seems as if it will continue to drain your time and energy.

      Perhaps you can create a “Ask Ming” section for those of us who have questions and would like a personal reply, but I’d suggest that anyone expecting a personal reply should be willing to make a donation or pay a fee that you determine is appropriate. It would also encourage us as readers to determine whether a personal response to a question is something important enough to pay a fee for in exchange for your professional advice. After all if I’m about to spend a significant amount on a camera/lens/etc. I would think that paying a “donation fee” for your advice is money well spent.

      If you look at photography websites that are exclusively review sites (Sean Reid) his model provides reviews, but severely limits viewing options – you can’t print his reviews and are forced to sit in front of an electronic device to get the information he provides. He also doesn’t have a “forum”, nor does he encourage personal dialog. Frankly I find some of the limitations of his site annoying, but I understand why he does things the way he does. He represents one end of the spectrum.

      Ken Rockwell may be the other end – he openly asks for donations, links to every third party site imaginable, provides “click through links” to vendors, and in general tries to maximize income from as many sources as possible. Yet even his site doesn’t encourage or provide answers to reader comments/questions.

      I’m not suggesting that either of the these websites are a model for you to follow, but the reality is that we as readers have been spoiled. You’ve generously shared your knowledge with everyone, but as the site continues to thrive the personal demand of responding to reader comments seems like the core challenge to your time management.

      I welcome your friendly manner, thoughtful analysis, education and thoughts, and there is no other site that I know of that provides this range of services for free all the time. The reason is that it is a “labor of love” and isn’t monetized. Expecting you to continue that model isn’t realistic. Speaking for myself, and likely many of your readers, we value your contribution to photography “for everyone”, but also realize that you’re in a business and it’s not fair of us to expect you to continue to provide the wealth of information that you do “gratis”. Some form of compensation is reasonable, and more importantly, the only way to sustain the information you provide.

      Only you can best determine how much/what content should be free and what should be fee/donation based, but I don’t think any of us who appreciate what you offer would find it offensive in any way to contribute to this site to continue to get the information you provide. How you decide to do that is fine with me, and I’m sure with the vast majority of your readers.

      • Let me flip it around: I think the personal bit is a critical part of why people are here; it’s because you can clarify your understanding by asking and expecting a response. And given one of the primary purpose of the site has always been education, without this, I’m also not fulfilling my own objectives.

        It’s not even a question of business at this point – I’d do things pretty differently if this site were out to be fully commercial – it’s simply that I’m bumping into limits on time. 🙂

    • Actually, the ‘longer run’ and maturity is a good thing and means we can go back to focusing on the art.

      As for the Leicas: if they didn’t bother to sort out and improve ergonomics, why bother? Because the rest has not fundamentally changed.

      Children pressure: perhaps badly expressed; it’s more like the desire to want to spend time/energy elsewhere, but the inability to do so because of other commitments. So it’s a personal pressure rather than an obligatory one: you want two things but can only have one.

  10. Quality over quantity. It will spare you far more time, you’ll feel far stronger about your voice on the intrawebspaceplace, and you’ll weed-out the fly-by-night quantity-driven transactional readers who will rarely back you til the point of your first nosebleed. Post less frequently, share stronger more researched posts. Which still take less of your time. DISCLAIMER: I’m an old-school quality over quantity kinda feller, proudly relying on his BlackBerry using Microsoft Exchange for his CRM needs. I’m not of the modern millennial quantity-trumps-all mindset.

  11. Hi Ming, Great to see you are planning a status quo but at the same time broadening your topics and not planning to do too many more reviews. I agree with you that we have passed the ‘sufficiency singularity’ and for > 80% of photographers we now have technology that is more than good enough for most of what we shoot. IMHO any review is pretty much about teasing out infinitismal differences between models/versions of cameras that anyone who actually cares about making images long since past worrying about. For me your focus on the more philosophical aspects of photography is why I keep returning to your blog. I always find these posts not only thought provoking but often inspirational. Ironically my own humble attempts at blogging (https://petercrippsphotography.co.uk/blog/) are at the opposite end of the spectrum to yours. I have a grown up and departed family and have more, not less, time. I am looking to up the number of posts I do to my blog to 2-3 per week as I find myself with more time and inspiration and the need for this sort of outlet to fire my creativity. Here’s to another year of blogging.

  12. Imagilink says:

    Hi Ming,
    I support your choice to produce less publication’s! You know, it’s all about the quality of your contributions. So “less is more”.
    I will continue to support your website by buying your tutorial video’s. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us.

  13. “Isn’t it high time we reviewed and improved our thinking?”
    This should be downright bone chilling for most people with cameras, and the reason I come here. I’ve learned a lot, and glad it will continue. Whatever the frequency, my RSS feed will catch it, and I will read it. You bring a unique perspective to an data rich but information starved audience. Thanks

  14. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    That’s a lot of words to say that you will in future drop 1 post/week! 🙂

  15. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I may be a relatively recent addition to your readership, Ming, but you would be well aware how impressed I am with the material you publish on your Blog – and by the quality of comment that it generates (ignoring the inevitable troll that turns up from time to time).

    I have also taken the liberty of looking through some of your older postings and found them very helpful, too.

    There is an objectivity in your approach, a maturity in the articles you write, as well as a pursuit of quality, which sets you apart from a heap of other sites.

    You appear anxious not to “upset the apple cart” – I think you have every right to do whatever and whenever you want to – you not only have family pressures (which you mention), but also the pressures associated with producing work for your clients (which you barely refer to), and I think I speak for an overwhelming majority of your readership when I say we are all extremely grateful – grateful to you for the time you put into this Blog site, grateful for the depth of thought you put into and the quality of your articles, and grateful to you as a leading photographer for sharing your knowledge, skills and experience. You did ask what we thought – and that provides a perfect opportunity to tell you 🙂

    I don’t know if this is helpful – it’s drawn from an analogous field of interest – since I was a child, I’ve always been interested in philosophy or polemics or whatever you want to call it, and in parallel with that, I’ve always had a deep interest in what is commonly lumped together under the tag of “nonsense”. I traveled more than half way through my life before I made the connection – it hit me one day, when I was returning from my bookshop, reading the preface of a book on “nonsense” – the author explained that “nonsense” is in fact a discipline, used and adopted by serious thinkers, because it provides a means of finding solutions to their problems when conventional logic and conventional wisdom fails to yield the answers they are seeking. The instant when I read that sentence was an epiphany for me – but one that had eluded me IN THOSE TERMS, for decades before that moment. And I didn’t discover it – someone else told me, and it explained what I’d been doing all those years. It came as a blinding revelation, in my case.

    Maybe we are all seeking something similar with the art that makes a good photograph. Maybe the Blog provides a forum where you can step outside the routine of your working life and cast around for “other solutions” or “a new approach”.

    • “you not only have family pressures (which you mention), but also the pressures associated with producing work for your clients (which you barely refer to)”
      Oddly enough – the family stuff is all new to me (as it is for most first time parents, I suppose) – the client stuff isn’t a problem because of experience – I feel stating the obvious is probably not really beneficial for anybody 🙂

      Being forced to put structure to one’s thoughts often forces you to find a solution – or triggers a sudden burst of understanding…

      • Well, the “family stuff” literally grows on you. I have been married 46 years, and raised four kids (8 grandkids). As odd as this sounds, for over 21 years (from the time of our first child), we never had a babysitter. We just never found a reason to leave them with someone else. We took them with us and lost a lot of friends along the way, those who did not want kids around.

        I also worked at home. Even when I ran a good-sized company (around 700 people) and had a fancy office, I stayed and worked at home. My point is, even though I am pretty concentrated in what I do, at least I was around the kids. They could (and would) come into my home office whenever they wanted. We also did home birth and home-schooled two of our kids. My wife was (and is) dedicated to those kids. I am too, but my job all those years was to make money to pay the bills and, since I never wanted to do anything (as far as work goes) other than what I wanted to do, that was not so easy. For me, it’s all about the ability to respond (responsibility). If you have that ability, you have no choice.

  16. On the topic of topic spread, I would be very interested to see a post on coffee, similiar to the posts on audio 🙂 Surely with all the coffee you have imbibed, there must be a preference for a certain style of brew? A certain blend perhaps? Or anything with high a enough caffeine count goes?

    In a way for me coffee brewing (and drinking) is analogous to photography: preparation, equipment, processing, etc. Would love to hear/read your thoughts on this (if you have the time of course)

  17. I am breathing a sigh of relief this morning that your blog will continue! I think it responsible for keeping us all on our creative toes! Thank goodness for the technology that allows one in KL to communicate with people all over the world practically in real time – even though our respective timezones are varied! Technology and your remarkable propensity to question and think aloud with such vigor and vitality!

    Its important to think about how we are seeing and what we are saying with our work; our intentions matter, but we need to be clear about what they are and thoughtful discussion helps sharpen our focus.

    Thank you!

    • No problem. It was never a question of discontinuation so much as a restructuring – after all, I’ve been pretty much operating in more or less the same format for five years now and I’m sure people wouldn’t complain about a change 🙂

      • Its nice to know that writing, more specifically, writing of this sort, is important to you. Its obviously important to many others aw well. So going forward, be sure to serve yourself in your musing mixing things up as the spirt moves. I hesitate saying Be Happy. At the same time, it would be pointless to continue unless you find pleasure and value in going forward. So take it as given!

  18. P.S.
    I should mention that I have purchased a number of your tutorials, plus your camera bag, all of which I love. However, you recent “Workflow III for Photoshop or Lightroom” changed my post-camera processing entirely. For one, it weened me from Lightroom forever, and grounded me in Photoshop, and my images are so much the better for it, and I have been doing photography for many years.

  19. It sounds like this has been a useful exercise to go through then, even if nothing about the site itself has changed. Congratulations on your insight, and the increased inner peace I hope this brings 🙂

    PS – I didn’t get the chance to contribute to the discussion of the original post, but would have said no drastic change needed, cut posting frequency if more personal time is the goal.

    PPS – Keep up the great work (but at your own convenience)!

  20. Good decision! In my own daily blog to 5000 folks, I find the process of writing (and responding) a valuable discipline, and the clarity of thought from the daily writing (and the sheer freshness of staying in the moment) is at this point (pretty much) necessary a healthy state of mind. I often throw out a blog, even within 24-hours, because my mind (or the situation) has changed. I don’t feel the same. Anyway, thanks for continuing. You might want to give your “Donate” button a little more prominence.

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