28 January Q&A answers, part I

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Here goes: after the jump, a distillation of answers to your questions from the 28th of January post. Thank you for contributing – some of these proved to be very interesting to think about! Remember, the most relevant answer may have already been given previously, sometimes in great detail…

Jason Cheh: What is something that you are grateful to have learned early on in photography and how do you think your intent as an artist/photographer has shifted over time (interpret as you will).
You can always improve if you try – both practice, curation and meaningful feedback from people without self interest in their answers. “Improve” is of course relative to the person making the assessment, but it’s really ever either only the person paying or yourself. My intent has shifted largely according to both of these things: when I am the ‘client’ and making the assessment, I shoot what I like, in the style I like. I strive to be able to clearly represent what I imagined from the scene, and improve my skill level/ “visual vocabulary” to the point I can express myself fluidly and quickly enough to take advantage of transient opportunities. I assess the work I do on an increasingly tight basis by forcing myself to rank and discard weaker work so by default you are eventually only producing ‘better’. The ‘client’ has shifted from almost completely me to completely commercial and now back to completely me; I am forced to once again assess what I want out of an image and a scene and in turn re-assess my seeing process. I think I’m still in the process of doing this, but I can say it wasn’t the same as before.

Linden: 1. Is there something you have learned from the world of small scale watch manufacture that you think the photography manufacturing industry could adopt?

2. What are your thoughts on the Ultraprint in 2020? Has anything changed in how you see this or feel about it compared with 2013?

3. Now that MING Watches demands much of your time, and perhaps also for issues of weight-carrying and comfort generally, has your enthusiasm for small-light-simple continued in 2019 and do you see that continuing in 2020?

4. We are at the beginning of a new decade. Is there something, some technological possibility, or quality-price possibility, hardware or software that excites you or gives room for optimism as we look to the decade ahead?
1. Yes: customer service remains almost uniformly rubbish. Photography retail is like mass brand luxury: insincere, shallow, expensive, and the salespeople generally have no clue what they’re talking about, much less understanding what you actually need. If a pro did that, he’d be out of work very fast. That this huge contrast can exist at all between the service side and the retail hardware side in the same industry is mind boggling! I tried to change this at Hasselblad, given the high end of the market is both where it’s possible to support the costs of such customer service and the greatest benefits could be had through customer relationship sales, but in the end the new owners weren’t interested unless I was going to handle all of those customers personally myself.
2. It should be easier for people to understand since ultra high density displays are now common, and easier to make since high resolution capture devices are more common, but interest is even less than it was in 2013 because the way we consume images has become even more disposable. Furthermore, with increasingly large high density displays, in a lot of ways the need for the same thing in print is decreased since it now exists in a reusable form. Large prints are of course a different matter, or prints of any kind/format that don’t have a digital equivalent. I am of course talking entirely from a viewing perspective rather than an archival or curative/ exhibiting one.
3. Definitely: reduced output requirements also mean I no longer have to prioritise resolution. A Z7 and one or two lenses at most is sufficient for ‘serious’ work (barring very specific situations like studio watch photography) and even then, I use my phone a lot more than I did previously – to the point it’s replaced a dedicated ‘serious’ compact. The vastly improved output of the iPhone 11 Pro is a large contributor to that, though.
4. The computation aspect, if used correctly, should allow for smaller form factors without much compromise in image quality – if at all. We’re seeing that in phones as previously mentioned; if tiny 1/2.33″ sensor output can be made competitive with M4/3 APS-C under a lot of conditions, imagine what we could do with the same applied to larger formats?

Michael Erlewine: I would like some comments as to what you feel about the Nikon Z7, the adapters for it, and the S lenses, so far, including the Nikon Noct 0.95 if you have had a chance to use it. And what does the road ahead look like for this larger flange camera?
Long term thoughts on the Nikon Z7 and system
Caveat: I’ve used the 24-70/4, 50/1.8, 85/1.8, 16-50 DX pancake and 50-250 DX collapsible zoom. The rest of the lenses don’t really interest me for various reasons (size, balance, price, limited application that I have no use for etc). In summary: it works like you’d expect from a Nikon, without surprises. It is seamless with older lenses and makes some of them more usable (handheld PCE with accurate focal plane representation, for instance). As for the roadmap – I have no idea, you’d need to ask Nikon.

Tim Shoebridge: A crystal ball question! Given the ongoing evolution of the camera industry, where do you see it being in 5 years’ time, which manufacturers are likely to survive and which are in danger of failing?
I think they’ll all still be around, but ownership may change. Olympus is the most likely to get bought out by somebody for their technology. Ricoh/Pentax is still stubbornly hanging on despite signs of impending doom from a long time ago, though if I had to pick two to be concerned about – it’s them and Olympus. Medium format remains tenuous for everybody but Fuji, and even then, they’re only surviving through very aggressive pricing. What I find surprising though is we haven’t really seen a Chinese camera brand yet – given most things are OEM’d and produced there for cost savings, it stands to reason we’d see the same kind of thing as in the smartphone market. Perhaps the money isn’t worthwhile – so the same technology manufacturers are focusing on said smartphones instead…

Mark: When are you going to review…..no, just kidding!

Since you started to practice photography (you can choose to define that as “as an amateur” or “as a working photographer”), what do you think has been a) the single best thing to happen to photography, and b) the single worst thing – and, in both cases, why? (The answers don’t have to be limited to directly related technological factors – they can be anything at all).
I think it’s the same thing, actually: social media and the internet as a medium for widespread image distribution. On one hand, you now have an increased requirement, appetite and awareness for images, as well as higher standards and more competition; this means more demand for image making services and tools. Not to mention opportunities for all of these things being no longer geographically restricted. On the other hand, there’s so much proliferation that the race has become about quantity, not quality – in a bid to have your images or product or service or self seen, you need to show more and more often. ‘More’ is simply easier to assess than ‘better’, and more so in an environment which is self-reinforcing this. ‘Better’ requires education and effort to assess; nobody bothers these days because they can have it now. In a way, we have begun a race to the bottom of a sort of homogenous ‘good enough’, and the bar is set very low. In such an environment it’s difficult to push quality or uniqueness because in the case of the former, it makes you too expensive and uncompetitive to survive; in the case of the latter, you just get copied.

Guilherme: Please give us some tips on curation and visual language and story telling!
Actually, all of these topics have been extensively addressed in both articles and a couple of the video workshops:
Curation, in Photoshop Workflow II
Storytelling and style, in Making Outstanding Images Ep.4
Titling and storytelling
Curation, judging and objectivity
Curate curate curate
The limitations of language
Photography, philosophy and psychology

JJ: Where’s the review of the A7R4? Joking! 😀
Seriously, how have you improved your photography over the last 10(?) years? In the sense of both:
– A) what have you done to improve, any tips / practices you’d like to share to improve over the long term? How do you maintain and improve the quality of your photos across very different projects, whilst still experimenting with new things and not getting stuck in a rut?
– And then also B) how do you feel about the trend in your own skills over the years? E.g. Do you feel that you’ve steadily improved every year, or that it’s gone in fits and starts? Have you ever felt like you’ve reached a plateau? Did you learn more from paid projects, or personal experimentation? Etc.
No pressure to answer anything you don’t want to but any thoughts on this would be really interesting because there are not many photographers who post the breadth of photos that you do over a long period of time – most either seem to come and go, or stick very conservatively to the same areas.

Right here: I didn’t buy one.
A) Even if you’re shooting for somebody else, take the time to shoot for yourself. That might be an extended period/break or it might be to grab that one unrelated shot you see whilst on assignment. Keep your eyes open and trying to see; when you get tired and can’t see, force yourself not to. The images usually start creeping in again. Don’t be afraid to try, if you think you can see an idea; your won’t know if it works or not without taking the shot. But, you can afford to be honest to yourself and not actually show anybody if the idea didn’t meet your expectations.
B) It’s been a steep learning curve, but also steeply diminishing returns – the more of the envelope you master, the further you’ve got to go to improve your skills. And those opportunities usually aren’t easy or common. Sure, there are step changes (e.g. learning to fly and shoot from a drone) with new technology or a change in method, but eventually you’ve done most of those, too.
I’ve probably learned the most from projects that pushed me out of my comfort or familiarity zone – you’re forced to find new solutions and try to see in subjects and situations you haven’t previously done. If it works, you add to the toolkit of things you can do; if it doesn’t, then you know what not to do. If you’re shooting in a situation where you have a formula or default shot list, it’s very easy to be on autopilot and miss things – not to mention get sloppy. Doesn’t really matter if the project is paid or not; it’s just to force you to have discipline to shoot around a theme.

This turned out longer than expected, so it will be continued in part II and III…

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Comments

  1. Hello MT! Sorry for the delay, one been extremely busy lately and didn’t catch up with this series until today and was surprised to see my question answered in the first part!

    Thank you so very much. I’ll devour those links (I think I had read a couple of them).

    Best regards, and thanks for sharing some very interesting questions and answers.

  2. New question(s!) leading on from Jason’s – what order do you think a photographer should acquire skills in e.g. should they learn macro before portraiture or flash? Would you have changed the order you learnt skills in knowing what you do now? What is the most important skill to learn?

    • As an amateur? Curation, composition, shot discipline, lighting, then only genre-specific. You can’t use the latter without the former, but the first four apply to everything. Logic is that you need to know what’s good/bad before you start trying things else it’s all equal; you need to know how to frame a shot before worrying about the technical nitty gritty; but you don’t always need external lighting if you have good technique. And then only external lighting since this is something very open ended (and possibly confusing if you don’t have the first three down pat).

      As a pro? Learn business and how to sell/convert/close right after the basics and before genre-specific. You can’t stay in business if you can’t sell.

  3. Some interesting thoughts here – thanks for taking the time to answer all questions 🙂
    One additional question, actually, do you still use the mavic pro / mavic pro 2 drones at all for personal or professional work? I noticed you still list them both on your kit list but haven’t seen any photos on your flickr stream lately

    • I still own them but I haven’t flown in months. Regulations and lack of demand/ personal interest, mainly. Some other factors too.

      • Fair enough, regulations are a pain – I lost my Mavic in a crash and have been putting off getting a new one until I’m sure I’ll actually be able to fly it. Sometimes it’s nice to have another POV on a scene, but I can’t decide if it’s really worth the money and effort to carry around!

  4. A short one : What do you see in future for Hasselblad ?

    • Honestly? I have no idea. It depends on what the new owners want to do. There was so much possibility but also so much indecision and inexperience, so who knows?

  5. Haven’t tried the iPhone 11. I use my X a lot though. I’m in no rush to upgrade but look forward to the new camera when I do.

    Thanks for answering my questions.

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  1. […] closed as of 31 Jan 2020. Answers here, here and […]

  2. […] Jules: would like to know once and for all if Zeiss Milvus and Otus are really that incredible and worth the price (e.g. Milvus 35mm 1.4). Specially since Z lens arrived. Thanks Previously answered in part I […]

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