It might actually be better to start off with the corollary: why the wrong gear is frustrating, or at best, obstructive. First principle: what’s good for you isn’t necessarily good for somebody else, and vice versa. This may seem obvious, but the number of people who are chasing and lusting after hardware that simply doesn’t make sense for them is quite mind boggling – the internet seems to be full of them. Of course, it’s highly likely that those who have found camera nirvana are simply out there making pictures and have stopped thinking about the whole gear train – it seems much more productive to me to spend time making pictures instead of scouring fora for obscure solutions and rumour sites hoping for magic bullets. It boils down to this: most people make different images. Considering this objectively, it means that for different objectives, different tools are required. Yet what I can’t understand is the obsession with finding a one-size-fits-all; the manufacturers want to do this because it makes economic sense, but the whole point of having choice is so we as consumers do not have to.
Imagine you’re hired to do something on the basis of the work you’ve previously done: the client likes your previous work, and wants you to do the same for their brief – within limitations, of course. You have of course taken care to show only the kind of work you want to do, so that there’s no possibility for misunderstandings. But yet the inevitable happens: as the job progresses, the scope changes, and suddenly you’re being asked to do something that’s either a duplicate of what’s been done before – by somebody else – or worse, a mishmash of incoherent ideas that were clearly a case of design by committee and completely unsuitable for the original subject or brief. Sound familiar? Sadly, this is far too often the state of play in most creative industries, not just photography.
A combination of arts and senses in the appreciation: the feeling of weight; the design, composition and balance of visual elements; the subtle sound of the movement and even the sensation of temperature when you pick it up. Yet I doubt few will home in on any single one of these elements – but if you did, and only looked at the design for typography or prose, for instance, you might find quite a lot lacking…
I have a little hypothesis which I think many of you will appreciate. It’s somewhat off topic, so those of you expecting a how-to or review may want to skip today’s post. The creative person is not limited to one field: often, they have interests in other subject matter, and will try to apply themselves in a similar fashion. Musicians who enjoy photography or painting; chefs who sing; singers who cook. And often one tends to be not only good at the other, but there’s also a translation of style of sorts between the different disciplines, too. I can’t cook, or play music, but I do appreciate those two skills and can comment to some degree, in the same way that I can comment on design work which I do in addition to photography. And like my photography, people have noted my design work tends to be balanced, precise, and structured, but not necessarily simple…
Things are not as they seem: experimentation, in capture and post
This is an alternative take on an earlier piece I wrote, also on a creative frame of mind: from a different frame of mind, no less. There are some professions where you don’t have to be in the right mood to do your job well. You can be an effective consultant, accountant or middle management without having to be particularly inspired; in fact, imagination is generally not a good thing when it comes to accounting and finance anyway. (At least that’s what Inland Revenue said; if you’re Prime Minister, that’s another thing entirely). However, for creative professions – photography, videography, design, writing, music etc. – there’s no question that your state of mind has a direct and very tangible impact on the outcome of the work. As a photographer, professionalism – the ability to deliver at a minimum standard that’s above your client’s expectations under effectively all circumstances – is the bare minimum. But inspiration is what really make the difference between workaday and brilliant. [Read more…]
Before and after – starting point of RAW file in color (right), final presentation mono (left). Is that ‘photoshopped’? To most audiences, it probably is; but it’s no different to using black and white film, processing with a certain chemistry and doing a little dodging and burning of the print. Nothing has been added or removed that was not physically present in the original scene.
Though the mainstream population has now been firmly in the digital era of photography for more than a decade, I’m sure we can all remember a recent time when we were asked ‘so how much photoshop did you do?’ when presenting an image. The misconception that a good image must have some degree of implicit trickery is problematic; to the public, ‘Photoshop’ has become synonymous with ‘digital illustration’, ‘compositing’, or worse, ‘deliberate misrepresentation’. As much as we do our best to explain that Photoshop is really no different to the darkroom and chemical processes of the film days, we are at best regarded with some skepticism. But it does beg the question: why not use all the tools at one’s disposal, and what’s wrong with it if we do?
Today’s article was inspired by a comment made by one of my readers a couple of months back: “It is interesting to look at your posts around 2 years back. I originally found the blog through reviews (surprise) but kept reading due to the good available light photography. Now a lot of the photos from back then look quite dated in comparison to your recent work, especially the processing.” I don’t know if it’s just the processing, or the fact that the processing is now entirely subservient to the idea, not locked into what is required for a certain look or style. I’ve always had an internal conflict between making images that are recognisably ‘Ming Thein’, not getting stuck in the same mould, and to a somewhat lesser extent, making images that are different from everything else. To anybody serious enough about photography that they seek to make a name for themselves – be it through commercial or gallery work* – I suspect this is not a unique conundrum. So what can we do?
*Arguably the same at times
This post will not make any sense at first, and certainly not the title image – but I’ll get there. As a photographer – and a person trying to find something different and visually/aesthetically pleasing under sometimes challenging situations, it’s important to be aware of things that can limit or aid us. From a general life standpoint, the things that inspire us also tend to be the ones that put us in a good mood – and in what way is that bad? Having spent time in a wide range of places which cover all portions of the inspiration scale, there are definitely places that stand out as being better than others – but often for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious. But you do notice it in the way the locals smile, have a spring in their step, tend to be encouraged and happy to run their own small businesses, and generally seem happy. In contrast, places that stifle or are not conducive to creativity tend to be missing that ‘zing’: everything is transactional ends at the next buck.
Part two: get creative (continued from part one)
The camera companies and retailers are going to hate me for writing this, because it’s not going to sell any more equipment. If you were hoping for a quick solution that involves a credit card, I’m sorry too – there is no substitute to better photographs other than hard work. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be fun or creatively liberating – after all, isn’t that one of the key reasons we shoot at all?
And now, for something a little different. We all fall into creative ruts occasionally, and we can all benefit from a little reboot from time to time. Think of it as the closest we’re going to get to a creative diet plan of sorts. It doesn’t involve more fibre, or workouts, or stairs, or eating things that might look healthy but taste terrible. I promise not to make you develop your own film, though you certainly can if you want. Read on if you want to tighten your photo-chops.
I was discussing printmaking with one of the regulars readers of this site recently when a thought struck me: one of the biggest turning points for me personally was when I started shooting with an eventual printability objective for all of my images. This happened around early 2012, before which I’d felt I was stagnating creatively somewhat – perhaps partially due to day job commitments (this was before I turned to photography full time) and partially because well, I didn’t have an output objective.