Getting over the hump

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There comes a point in the growth of every photographer where they reach a ‘hump’ which appears to be insurmountable in any obvious way: you just don’t think you can get any better, no matter what you do. This may be at a very low level, or a very high one; depending on your natural visual aptitude. But it happens to everybody – it’s happened to me several times in the past. Today I’d like to talk about things you can do to move past it and up your game. After all, everybody wants to make better images, right?

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Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography

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Following on from the reader critiques, email conversations and meet ups – I realize that there’s a big hole out there for people who want to learn how to do specific things photographically – how to achieve the end objectives *you* want to achieve, not  what’s dictated by an enormous group workshop. And by a big hole, I mean nonexistent other than trial and error or finding a friend who happens to be good at whatever it is you want to shoot, and as a bonus has the time to teach you.

This is where Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography comes into play.

1. Learn what you want to learn. You decide what you your final objective is: it can be as specific or general as you like. Anything from ‘how do I make a good photograph?’ to ‘I want to be able to make gigapixel images’.

2. Receive in depth critiques. Send me a related portfolio of your ten best images, which I’ll review and critique briefly. This lets me get a baseline for where you are and where the opportunities lie. I’ll be brutal, but objective and honest: you’re not going to gain anything from sugar coated comments.

3. It’s assignment based. I’ll set you ten assignments. Each assignment is aimed at teaching you one thing; the submission is in the form or a photo, or series of photos. There will be a detailed explanation of the hows, whys and technical/ historical context before the assignment, and a thorough review and postmortem dissection afterwards. This is the key learning portion.

4. It’s flexible. You’re the only student in your particular tailored program, so along the way, feel free to change the end goal as you learn more, or ask any relevant questions you might need answered.

5. Take as long as you need. The assignments can fit around your schedule and level of commitment. In fact, I’d be disappointed if you submitted the first image you shot, because it means you haven’t spent any time thinking about the learnings and experimenting.

The Full Course – US$900/ $800/ $500
The price for this is a one-off fee of US$900, which includes two videos – The Fundamentals and Making Outstanding Images Ep. 1, or whichever two videos are most appropriate for your level. Alternatively, it’s US$800 if you already have all of the videos you need, or $500 for post-workshop students excluding videos.

Compared to the thousands of dollars one spends on a decent camera and a couple of lenses, the equivalent of $75 per lesson is very little money to spend on acquiring the knowledge to use it properly and be able to capture your vision. And unlike equipment, the value of knowledge does not depreciate over time. The Email School was designed specifically to help you learn the fundamentals of photography that apply across any system to let you take the kind of photographs you want to take. It’s the distillation of 12 years and millions of images worth of experimentation, experience and expertise into one-on-one, personalized tuition with an experienced instructor and photographer. The reason I’m offering this is because I didn’t have anybody to go to to learn about the things I wanted to shoot when I was starting out, but I’d gladly have paid or enrolled in a school to learn – except there weren’t any. You don’t have to be in Kuala Lumpur to take part (but it would help) – everything can be done over email.

It’s a tailored, personal way of learning – you get as much out of it as you put in, and there’s no time limit to what you can learn.

Portfolio Review – US$500
Alternatively, I do a comprehensive portfolio review either in person, via email, or recorded to video (depending on your preference); from a submission of 50-100 images, I’ll perform a detailed critique of 20 of them, deconstructing them down to elements that work, elements that don’t, and most importantly, identifying recurring opportunities for improvement – and how to go about fixing them. I’ll also give you useful tips on straightforward things you can do with the equipment you’ve got to get closer to the results you want. This is similar to the Full Course, but without the assignment-based ongoing feedback process afterwards,

Places are limited by the amount of time I have – each student gets individual and personal attention. If you would like to sign up or get more information, please send me an email.

Thanks! MT

A couple of testimonials (over 150 students to date):

Jo B Grasmo (Image critique): Wow! Precisely what I was looking for! Thank you very much! I guess I’m “too afraid” of breaking rule of thirds and having anything in the middle of the image. Balance is indeed something I need to think more about when composing my images, which fits with another goal of less cluttered images – making them simpler and more peaceful. Again, thanks!

Eugene Palomado (Email School) – I find Ming’s Email School a great way of learning and improving your photography skills. What I love the most about it is that you get to do it on your own time. I guess the disadvantage is that feedback is not instant because everything is done through email but Ming’s response time is awesome! I have no complaint whatsoever in our communication all through out the course of the program and he is very professional. He answers all questions and he even sends you a note if he is going to be delayed in providing feedback. I struggled a bit with email communication at first but it’s something you have to be patient with and understand that there’s no facial queues. Everything is in words so if there’s something that is unclear regardless of what it is, simply clarify or ask. I think the keys to making it successful are to be honest and to communicate well. I highly recommend this program. You’re awesome Ming!

Gary Greenberg (Email school, Intro to PS): As a current student of Ming’s, and owner of one of these videos, and of many from his MT Compendium iPad app, I can’t more highly recommend his training products. I have grown so much from both his products, and freely available blog. I can say that if personal satisfaction is an acceptable metric, I am more satisfied in my own work. His approach is systematic, his ability to communicate top notch, and end product- images- so pure. To many professionals depend upon heavy post-processing (IMHO) these days. I follow and recommend Ming because he pushes me (us) to create amazing images that do not look like they’ve been digitally altered. Thanks Ming for your guidance, expertise, and honesty!

Stefan Decker (Email school): Hi Ming, I just completed your E-Mail school and want to thank you very much for mentoring. Before starting the program, I was in doubt: Either your E-Mail school or a new lens/camera. It was definitely the right decision. It took 8 months full of individual mentoring. For this, the price is a real bargain and the learning effect is much higher than any other “weekend workshop” at a photo studio. The school improved not only my photographic skills, but also the understanding of what makes a good picture. You answered also all of my additional questions. (always super fast and competent). In conclusion: – Highly recommended – 9.5/10

John Chang (Email school): Thank you for a great course, perhaps the best money I’ve spent on photography, i’ve picked up more in the past 10 assignments than the last 10 years. Confident of your career trajectory, I’m going to keep all those images and advice and make money off your fame in the near future! : )

Pete Saunders (Email School): I certainly have benefited greatly from Ming’s mentorship. Don’t expect his critques to be sugar-coated. He will be honest (brutally so at times) but fair. If you want to be on the path to developing useful and creative photographic skills, this is the person to go to. I have been fortunate enough to have had the ear (and eyes) of Ming these past few years in guiding me to the satisfying levels I’m at today. Ocassionally, he even likes one or two of my photographs.

Roger Wojahn (Portfolio review): Thank you so much for your patient, thoughtful, encouraging and brutally frank comments on my portfolio as well as my strengths and weaknesses. I have taken them all to heart and feel like the goals are tangible and understandable. Edges, exploring the vertical, eliminating random extra space and many of the finer (and larger subject) points all taken. A few of the comments about, for example, a boat on one side and needing a bit more of the mountain line descent on the other were merely a shortcoming of having one lens on the camera and little room to move closer or further from the scene. Still those points are instructive. (Follow up:) I first wanted to say that you have completely changed my perspective having been so forthright in your review of my portfolio. It may not seem like much has changed from your end, but I am practicing every day. Instead of making one casual shot and moving on, I am trying to improve, strengthen my subjects, watch the edges, shoot in vertical format, and a host of other things you mentioned. Part of the reason that I shot landscapes was my love for individual travel and discomfort with shooting in a crowd. It’s still quite a transition toward street photography but I am trying. For example, both shots that you chose of mine today were shot without looking through the viewfinder. The Mimosa, shot from well overhead (very clunky) with an M9 and the other, hanging around my neck, sitting on a subway. I’m trying to learn zone focusing, etc. Anyway, too much info I’m sure, but I’m doing my best to improve and practice is helping given your commentary.

There are even more testimonials here.


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


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

Workshops, training and classes

Travel Workshops
Beginning in May 2012, I’ll be running a series of week-long workshops in partnership with Leica Camera Asia; the exact dates are subject to change, but provisionally:

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Poke the cat. Kyoto, Japan. Nikon D200, 17-55/2.8 DX

Early May 2012: Travel photojournalism in Tokyo, Japan

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Outback pool, Australia; Nikon D700, 28-300VR

October/ November 2012: Landscape photography road trip, New Zealand

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Prague evenings. Olympus Pen Mini, ZD 45/1.8

2013 (TBC): Barcelona, Prague, Venice.

Each workshop is limited to seven participants and will feature a curriculum tailored to the needs and requests of the participants. International participants are welcome! Please email me or George Wong at Leica Malaysia for more information.

Custom solutions
If you have a particular need or desire to learn something specific, I’m happy to tailor a workshop to your precise requirements. Up to ten people per session for hands-on or an unlimited number for a talk. Minimum booking duration is half a day. email me for a quote.

Or, you can just use the form below to get in touch: