Off topic: Why I started making watches, part I

_Z602455
The MING family, as of March 2019

It’s a fair question, and one I’ve been asked frequently enough to properly explain myself somewhere, for the record. I suppose it isn’t just something you pick up on a whim one day, nor is it something that even if you had a burning desire to do – can easily begin by submitting a CV to a headhunter. Watchmaking, in its purest definition, is a vocation – not a profession. You physically have to make something, and in the process of doing so (from scratch, of course) understand everything from engineering to metallurgy to physics to aesthetics. It is the kind of masochistic intellectual pursuit undertaken successfully by only the most dedicated, the most skilled, or the most masochistically insane. I am not a watchmaker in the pure definition, nor am I dextrously skilled, but I am fairly dedicated and probably also insane. After all, eight years ago (has it been that long?) I did quit the top of the corporate game to start all over again as a photographer. And now, not having learned my lesson, history repeats.

[Read more…]

Social media algorithms are limiting creativity and subliminally controlling your world view

First things first: there’s no image of any sort in this post, which is rare for me. It’s a silent protest against the fact that whether this link and thus its contents get disseminated to people who subscribe to my social media feeds (FB, IG, Twitter) and read or not is almost entirely down to some self-curating algorithms. The alarmist and provocative title are deliberate attempts to play the game (explained further on). It has nothing to do with whether you subscribed to my feeds or not. Only a small portion of the total population of posts or images published by people you follow actually shows up on your feed. This has been verified by several people and a simulation account I set up and subscribed to several sources; sure enough, at the start, you see a lot of posts from your ‘new friend’, but not long after – they virtually disappear. It isn’t because they haven’t been making content, it’s much more sinister than that.

[Read more…]

Two cents off the soapbox

Alternative title: what’s actually new?

Following the recent hyped launches of the Panasonic S1R, Canon RF, Fuji GFX100, genuine pet eye smile AF tracking etc. – I’m finding myself looking at things from a fairly objective standpoint and asking how the industry is going to survive, let alone grow, in the long term. The simple reason is there has been fundamentally almost nothing in the ‘conventional’ camera market that allows us to do anything different from a creative standpoint. Before people take up their pitchforks, let me clarify several things…

[Read more…]

Repost: format strengths and why different sized media render differently

B0000292 copy
MF tonality and separation: in the full size image, the airplane is in a clearly different focal plane to the tree and hangar – even though it was shot at f8.

I’ve written previously about what exactly contributes to the ‘medium format look’. However, I think to some degree we also need to both define what constitutes the hallmarks of smaller formats, but more importantly figure out where each format’s strengths lie. Having now shot what I’d consider ‘enough’ with a complete MF system wth lenses ranging from ultra wide (24mm, or 18mm-e) to moderate tele (250mm, or 180mm-e) I think I’ve built up a much more complete picture. No doubt this will change if the recording medium size increase further – with the 54x40mm sensors, for instance – but I think it’s fairly safe to extrapolate based on the differences between subsequent smaller formats.

[Read more…]

In praise of crappy hardware

_3501558 copy

I’ve had the privilege and frustration of working with both the best and worst hardware of a wide variety of types. I say this independent of cost, as often it isn’t a good indicator for suitability to a given task – in fact, this is increasingly true as cost increases and your tools get more specialised. It’s also not always true given reliability issues, customer support and other general electronic weirdness and histrionics. Perhaps crappy is an unfair term that probably does the hardware in this discussion a disservice. If you haven’t noticed, the industry has been changing silently but surely: the midrange has gone high end, the high end has gone stratospheric, the bottom end is gone, and the midrange has gone downmarket. We now have multiple $3000-4000 FF ‘pro’ lenses released as par for the course and nobody blinks an eyelid (compare that to just a few years ago when only the Otuses were in that territory, and the same lenses were in the $1000-2000 range). We have the ‘low’ end of medium format now below the high end of full frame – $4000 Fuji GFX50R vs $7000 Leica M10 – and we have some true bargains at the beginner level. We have entry points into full frame at sub-$1000 (albeit in older hardware, though still available to buy new). That’s a psychologically significant number; it’s the price point of the Nikon D70 and Canon 300D back in the days of the first actually affordable DSLRs in the early 2000s. What if we go lower still?

[Read more…]

On visual economics and scarcity

H61C-B0000117 copy
No longer special if you see it every day, but stands out precisely because you don’t.

Alternative title: why exceptional photographs will always be rare

Economics 101: value, regardless of how it’s measured (price, time, social media kudos, etc) is proportional to demand. Demand is regulated by intrinsic attractiveness to a given market, the size of that market, and the supply available. Regardless of how few of something there are, if nobody likes or wants it, then it has no value. Similarly, something that may be intrinsically cheap but in short supply with a huge demand might see its price rise out of proportion with the the actual cost, utility or materials of the goods in question. But it’s not just physical goods that obey this rule; intellectual property and even more nebulous intangibles that do not have a limited supply (e.g. there is no theoretical limit to the number of people who can view a photograph) do, too. Even the compositional elements of a photograph. If you’re ready for another one of my strange philosophies, read on.

[Read more…]

Repost: Derivative works and photography

IMG_4128b copy
Influenced by the architect? Surely. Created by him? About as much as it was created by Apple, because it was shot on an iPhone.

I originally wanted to call this article ‘is anything truly original?’ – however, I think that’s the concluding question I’d like to leave the reader with rather than the opening one. There has been a lot of debate recently – both in the comments here, offline amongst my usual correspondents and in various places on the internet about why a) photography is perhaps not perceived as ‘highly valued’ as other art forms; b) obviously derivative works and the creative value – or lack of – contained therein; and the greater question of whether c) the medium as a legitimate creative art form rather than merely a recording/ documentary one. Perhaps the biggest question is in the title: ‘but is it art?’

[Read more…]

Bigger isn’t always better, or why you can’t see the difference most of the time

_PF02180 copy
Quasi-gratuitous header image: large format golfball, anybody?

I start this article with a deliberately provocative title, at the risk of being taken for one of those forum sensationalists that proclaims OMG NEW BEST CAMERAR EVARRRR SINCE THE SECOND COMING OF SLICED JESUS!! . But as always, there are caveats: I’m examining the situation under practical implementation, practical shooting constraints, and real world limitations: i.e. non-ideal circumstances, which I believe to be fair since this is how most photography takes place. And since we’re interested in hardware towards the practical application and implementation of photography, this is a fair approach to take. The crux of the argument is this: we have now reached a point in technology where the tradeoffs associated with upscaling your format do not translate into significant gains in shooting envelope or even practical output most of the time. Actually, I’d go even further and say that your hardware choices really hinge on a few factors, which we’ll discuss shortly.

[Read more…]

Shoot everything / diminishing returns

Is it possible to practice too much? To the point that it’s almost impossible to capture something exceptional because you’ve already seen 99.9% of the possible expressions of a given subject, and then captured and curated the best from there? Is there really a point at which additional repetition does not build muscle memory, speed of response, familiarity or spur creativity? Of late, I’m increasingly thinking the answer is actually yes: you can overshoot. But as usual, there are caveats, so hear me out before you break out the stakes, pitchforks and gasoline.

[Read more…]

Off-camera lighting 101: the ‘five things’

_Z705723 copy

I frequently get asked about lighting: specifically, how does one best approach the daunting challenge of knowing where to put what lights, how to set them up, use modifiers etc. I’ve written about some of this in the past but realise that I never tackled conceptually where to start. Fear not: in true Ming style, it’s now a list of Five Things ๐Ÿ˜‰ Though the whole process of conceptualisation and setup becomes increasingly intuitive over time and practice, I still find that this list helps quite a lot when you’re either a) working with very complex setups where multiple lights can start creating interference with each other, or b) trying to simplify. Remember, a shadow does several things: it provides spatial context for three dimensional placement of subjects in a two dimensional presentation; it creates texture; and it provides separation and definition from the background. The more complex the lighting setup, the less well defined the shadows are going to be. Ultimately, the purpose of any controlled lighting setup is to place the shadows where you want them to go, and control the relative brightness of the subject elements, allowing you to precisely manipulate the structure of your image so that it is ‘read’ by your audience in a certain way.

[Read more…]