Ming Thein

General photographic workflow tips | Ming Thein

Whilst it would be impossible to cover absolutely everything you need to know to be proficient in photography in a single article, the aim of today’s piece is to provide the amateur to hobbyist an idea of the things to keep in mind in order to be able to focus on producing images. It’s something that’s been quite frequently requested in the past few weeks – perhaps a sign that my reader base may be shifting somewhat – so I’ve decided to take a crack at it in a way that makes it both accessible yet still somewhat relevant for the more advanced photographer. Where applicable, the section header links to a more detailed article. I’ll approach this from a in the same sequence as I’d normally deal with my own photographic workflow, in a sort of annotated checklist format.

Planning the shoot

  • Reconnaissance matters: although you can shoot anything with any lens and camera, it’s not going to help you if you’re going birding with a fisheye. Sometimes it’s worth checking flickr or other communal image sources to see what other people have shot in the same location. I’ll do this but not spend a lot of time on it because I don’t want my perception to be pre-influenced by what I’ve seen in others’ work; however it does give me a good idea of what to expect.
  • Ensure you have enough supplies and spares: fully charged batteries, empty memory cards, cleaning cloths etc.
  • If it’s outdoors, time of day matters. Whilst it’s perfectly possible for you to just go and see what’s there, I’d recommend at least finding out which direction the sun is going to be shining in (or how much artificial light there is). No point going if the attraction you want to see is going to be completely in shade…….

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What makes a good photographer? | Ming Thein

Frequently asked, but rarely answered is the question of what makes a good photograph; rarely, if ever, asked is ‘what makes a good photographer?‘ In the first place, does it matter? I think the answer is yes, both because of the importance of self-assessment in the grand scheme of things if you want to continually improve as a photographer, and because we can all benefit from a goal to aim for. Obviously, the answer to this question is going to depend very much on the type of photographer you want to be; being loud, brash and in-your-face might serve you well as a paparazzo, but it’s almost certainly going to result in early retirement if you’re a war photographer. However, before examining those details – and I’m only going to write on the genres of photography I’m somewhat familiar with (please feel free to weigh in under the comments section if you have any further thoughts or experiences to share) – there are definitely some general traits that are beneficial to all photographers, and we’ll examine those first…..

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Understanding metering, part two: what to use, when | Ming Thein

With that background out of the way, let’s look at how the various metering options work, and what typical situations they might best be deployed under. Cameras typically have three options, or some variation upon that. Within these options, it’s also usually possible to fine tune various aspects of the meter’s operation. I’m going to leave out handheld meter operation since this is something that’s almost never encountered today. An important point to note is that all meters can be fooled by situations of uniform luminance, so don’t trust the readout blindly. Remember, meters function by averaging the entire evaluated area out to middle gray; this means if your evaluated area is meant to be black or white, you’re going to need to add or subtract some exposure compensation. For predominantly light/ white scenes, you need to add; for dark scenes, subtract. This holds true for every one of the different metering methods detailed below.

The simplest form of metering evaluates the frame as a whole, and tries to expose it to middle gray – under the assumption that there will be shadows and highlights, but these will average out. Seldom used today because you will almost always require exposure compensation (making it unsuitable for the point and shoot crowd which constitutes most of the global camera market), but has the one enormous advantage of behaving predictably under every situation.

The simplest form of meter is the spot meter. This evaluates luminosity at the desired point only, ignoring everything else in the frame. There are two important things to be aware of with a spot meter: the location and size of the spot. The metering spot’s location is either in the center of the frame, or tied to the selected or active autofocus point; the logic there is that you would typically want to ensure your subject is both in focus and properly exposed. Variations on the spot meter include types that are biased for highlights or shadows – i.e. you meter a shadow or highlight and it doesn’t turn out over or underexposed. Don’t forget to add appropriate exposure compensation

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Understanding metering, part one: introduction | Ming Thein

One of the more important – yet almost always overlooked – aspects of camera operation is metering. Simply put, the meter determines what your final exposure is, and how bright or dark your image looks relative to the scene. Unless you are shooting manual – and even then – the camera’s exposure is determined by the meter. Add the fact that the eyes of a viewer tend to go to the brightest and/ or highest contrast portions of an image first (i.e. this should be your subject) – and it’s clear to see why it’s absolutely critical to understand both how metering works as a fundamental concept and any camera-specific peccadilloes that might exist. The last thing you want is to find that your camera drastically underexposed a once-in-a-lifetime shot of some critically important event because you didn’t know (or forgot) that the meter was extremely affected by point light sources….
How meters work
Depending on which exposure mode your camera is in, the meter will try to find a combination of settings that creates an image that averages out to middle gray in luminance, i.e. the histogram average is around level 127 or thereabouts. There are three exposure parameters the camera can use to control the amount of light reaching the image processor – note that the sensor is also now involved in the process – shutter speed, aperture and digital gain, i.e. ISO. If you fix any one of these variables manually – say by shooting aperture priority at a set ISO – then the camera varies the remaining parameters according to a set of rules in order to achieve the ‘correct’ exposure. If the correct exposure is out of adjustment range – e.g. the required shutter speed for a given aperture is too high – then you’re going to land up with an over or underexposed image. In program mode, the camera controls both aperture and shutter values depending on its preset program; the photographer can usually shift the program to a different combination of values which still yield the same net amount of light hitting the sensor. In shutter priority, the user fixes the shutter value manually, so the camera alters the aperture. In aperture priority, it’s the other way around. In manual mode, the user fixes both values – the only thing the meter can do is display how far off the manually chosen exposure is from the correct exposure, or alter the ISO or flash. If auto-ISO is activated, then the camera will always default to the lowest possible ISO within the specified range in order to keep the shutter speed at or above a certain value – either user selected or 1/ focal length in second. (Note that for some cameras, using manual shutter and aperture values will cause the camera to shift the ISO rather than display the variance from correct exposure.)
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Presenting Ming Thein’s Photography Compendium for iPad | Ming Thein

… now available for $1.99 on the Apple App Store!
There are a million and one camera apps out there. But how many of them actually teach you about photography? What if you want to know, say, what comatic aberration is? Or perhaps you need some help with Photoshop, a dose of pictorial inspiration, a camera review, a concise opinion on whether a particular lens is worth buying, or a deconstructivist philosophical article to figure out exactly what’s missing from your images?
Brought to you by renown photographer and writer Ming Thein of www.mingthein.com, the Photographic Compendium covers all of these things:
The photographic dictionary contains most of the commonly-encountered technical terms (email us if you’ve got one that isn’t included, and we’ll do our best) and common acronyms used in photography today.
If you need to figure out whether you should buy lens A or lens B, look no further. This section includes a concise opinion on every single piece of equipment that Ming Thein has ever used – quite a lot, considering he used to review cameras for a living. It’s a living document and will continue to be regularly updated as more new equipment is released. Ming will also only opine on things he’s actually used and shot with.
Training videos
One of the more popular things Ming has done is the Photoshop Workflow for Photographers DVD – we’ve now expanded on that, with new images and new individual segments for specific purposes; video on demand lets you buy only the segments you need, and get them straight away. No more waiting for the postman! We also plan to continually release new segments on a regular basis – some dealing with more advanced retouching or editing techniques, some dealing with new images, some camera-specific. You can also request a video. For iPads with Retina display the videos are delivered in HD. We also use a global content distribution network to ensure that you have quick access to our high quality videos.
Photo stream
Think of it as your daily inspiration – this feed pulls the latest images from Ming Thein’s own photographic work.
Blog aggregator
A bonus feature to cache the most recent articles to read offline – handy if you don’t have an internet connection. And we all know that the images are best appreciated on a larger screen than your phone.
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Basic street photography techniques | Ming Thein

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Continuing in this mini-series on street photography, there are a number of techniques that I use while shooting. Although it’s possible to describe most of them in some detail, full understanding requires both demonstration and practice – this is where joining one of my workshops is ideal Together with the basic principles of balance, perspective, composition and what makes a good image – these techniques may be used singly or in combination to generate strong street images. In fact, they also apply to documentary and reportage work, too; the only difference between good street photography and photojournalism is that the latter has a consistent theme and subject. It’s important to note that not every technique is suitable for every situation, and vice versa; as always, a good portion of making a strong image is knowing what to leave out. In a photographic situation where you have effectively zero influence of any of the elements in your frame except the composition and exposure, timing is the one key bastion of control that remains in the hands of the photographer. By making a conscious choice of when you push the shutter, you decide when each and every single one of the moving elements in the frame is in the position you want them to be in. However, it is too late to react only at the exact instant you see the composition you want. It is therefore important for photographers to be able to see a scene, visualize the potential contained there, and be able to imagine what the finished frame will look like once all of the desired elements are in place. It is then a matter of simply waiting for those elements to all come together, and being ready with the camera when they are. No matter how fast reflexes, or your camera, the fact is that if you react off to you see something, it’s too late; training yourself to anticipate action is something that can give you the critical second or half-second which can make all the difference between getting the that and missing it completely…..

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What is street photography? | Ming Thein

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Sometimes, I think I’m a bit of a masochist. I actually like to shoot difficult subjects, and increasingly of late I’m also starting to write a lot about difficult topics. Today’s article seems like a very simple question to answer: what is street photography? The more I try to nail it down – and I spent a considerable amount of time on this before the Finding Light workshop – so I would know what to cover, and more importantly, what my students would expect me to cover. The first point of confusion comes when you try to decide what is ‘street’ and what isn’t: what about public spaces? What about museums, galleries, fora etc? Stairs? Restaurants? Hawker centers? Public transport, like the Underground? And here’s another question: does street photography always have to have human subjects in the frame? And when does street photography turn into travel reportage? You can see how this becomes confusing. I’ve decided that in general, the genre is loosely defined around several broad guidelines (at least for me; your mileage may vary). Let’s take a closer look at these.
Street photography is unplanned.
If you’re controlling any of the elements in the scene, then it starts to become a conceptual or even outdoor studio shoot – posed models in public definitely do not count as street photography: the photographer knew (or should have known) exactly what poses, look and lighting he wanted before beginning the shoot. (You certainly wouldn’t hire a model and get shooting permission if you had no intention to shoot there, would you?) There is also a reactive element to it – spontaneity and the ability to anticipate are both critical tools for the street photographer. You really never know what you’re going to get on any given day, and that’s what draws photographers to the genre: a never-ending source of material…
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Color management for photographers: a primer | Ming Thein

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Starting from the start, a colour space defines all of the possible tones and hues that a single pixel may take. The values may take either a RGB value or CMYK value; the set of three numbers represents the amount of each colour present from a scale of 0-255, which gives 256 possible tonal values for each colour (red, green, blue or cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Combining every possible permutation of these gives you 16.7 million possible different colours for RGB. Note that you don’t get 4.3 billion colours for CMYK, because the K (black) value controls the overall brightness and density rather than contributing another possible hue to the mix. The reason why we have different colour spaces is because they define the limit of reproducible tones for a particular reproduction method – be that screen, web, print, or TV transmission. The most commonly used colour spaces are either a type of sRGB or newsprint CMYK; both of these actually offer very limited reproduction potential. Many of you will notice that most images you see on the web, or in print, are lacking in depth and tonal subtlety; this is simply because the desired tone simply cannot be reproduced, and as a result lands up defaulting to the nearest possible colour value – which is obviously not going to accurately represent the original image. When a colour goes outside the possible range, this is known as gamut clipping. Some of the better proofing software can be configured to display a warning when this occurs; Camera Raw shows a small warning triangle in the upper-right near the histogram. For photographers, the important colour spaces you need to be aware of for digital display are Adobe RGB, sRGB and ProPhoto RGB. For print, it’s whatever variant of CMYK your printer uses. Let’s start with the former. Adobe RGB is the most common wide-gamut colour space available; almost every camera today – even compacts – has the option to output in this colour space by default – use it. sRGB is a limited, mostly web-safe gamut that varies slightly depending on the standard; one camera maker’s sRGB won’t be the same as another, and the sRGB displayed online will be different yet again – possibly depending on the browser, or your system settings, or any one of many other factors. Avoid this wherever possible. The final RGB – ProPhoto – provides the widest of all gamuts; however, most monitors aren’t capable of displaying the majority of the possible colours, and few web browsers support it. I’m going to leave covering CMYK until the section dealing with print. Although the tonal limitations of each colour space depend very much on the specific colour space themselves, it’s safe to say that in general, you’ll see the difference between Adobe RGB and sRGB most prominently in the blues and greens. There’s a particular shade of sky blue that seems to be nearly impossible to reproduce in sRGB, for instance. CMYK has similar restrictions to sRGB, but biases towards cyan instead of green and blue; overall, it lacks the vibrance and saturation that RGB can deliver – unsurprising given that the constituent colours are not red, green and blue! CMYK is used only for print proofing and is never found in camera or monitor; this is because the native components of these devices are formed of RGB photosites or pixels……

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Simple explanations of important camera functions/ settings/ parameters
| Ming Thein

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A recent email from a beginner/ amateur user on which camera settings to use under what conditions provided the motivation for this post. In addition to there never being a one-size-fits-all answer, it occurred to me that the reason why a lot of users are confused is partially down to poor product and UI design on the part of the camera companies, and overambition on the part of the user.
Cameras tend to come in one of two flavors: firstly, fully automated, dumbing down, hiding or completely eliminating all photographic functions/ controls or obfuscating them to the user behind language or parameters that doesn’t necessarily make sense intuitively, such as ‘blur control’. The second type of camera lets it all hang out: it’s so manually intimidating and complex, offering control over everything from critical exposure functions to the color of the LCD backlight or number of images taken when using the self timer, and at what interval – that the new or even slightly unfamiliar user has no idea where to begin. And to compound things, camera makers often make inexplicably baffling changes to the UI between each generation – for instance, the +/- indicators on the exposure compensation scale for the D700/D3 generation runs in the opposite direction to the D800/D4. Why? Nobody knows. Maybe the person designing the silk screen stencil for the top panel LCD didn’t refer to the previous model, or think that there might be photographers out there still using both generations of camera. (Sure, you can make the rotation direction of the dials match, but it doesn’t help the fact that either way, one of the cameras is going to have the display move in an unintuitive direction in use – which may slow you down enough to miss a shot, or you ignore it and land up drastically over- or under- exposed.)…..
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What makes an outstanding image? | Ming Thein

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Of the 400 or so posts I’ve published up to this point, I recently realized that the one enormously gaping hole I haven’t yet covered deals with the one of the major fundamentals: how do you actually determine if an image ‘works’ or not? What makes it good? What makes it outstanding? I think it was both a discussion on composition in our reader pool forum on Flickr, as well as the strongly mixed reactions to this photoessay post that did it – context, even a mini-article, sometimes simply isn’t enough if you’re missing a cultural familiarity, or local view. This is obviously not a simple question to answer; despite an extensive search online, I haven’t been able to find any good articles that provided any sort of conclusion. (Clearly, I must be a bit of a masochist in deciding to write this article.) Perhaps it’s because it’s an extremely subjective question to begin with; or perhaps it’s because to come up with an answer that makes sense requires a thoroughly multidisciplinary approach: strong images resonate technical, compositional, cultural, psychological and personal chords. And the final two are of course highly observer-dependant. In fact, it’s a wonder that we have any images at all that are globally recognized and appreciated. Rather than analyze specific images, I’m going to spend some time looking into some of the more abstract characteristics and their implications for one’s photography. I’d recommend finding a comfortable chair and grabbing a drink because this is a pretty heavy article. So heavy, in fact, I’ve decided to split it into two parts. It’s also turned out to be one of the most difficult articles to write, occupying a good couple of days thanks to the extremely vague and ill-defined nature of the subject matter. Finding the right photos to illustrate the article was just as tough; excuse me if there are some repeats of previously-posted images here.

Part II

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