Weekend Report: A First Look At The Hasselblad Medium Format X1D-50c

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Other than watches, the single piece of gear we’re most exposed to at HODINKEE is unquestionably cameras. In the course of producing our stories we shoot thousands of images of watches a year, as well as coverage of events, travelogue material for stories like our Road Through Britain series, and more. Gear used varies with who’s shooting, and what’s being shot – some editorial is shot with full frame DSLRs but there are also Micro 4/3 cameras in the mix, and others (Managing Editor Stephen Pulvirent favors an APSC-sensor mirrorless, for instance). 

Both from professional curiosity, and as photography enthusiasts, we saw the launch of Hasselblad’s medium format sensor X1D-50c with considerable interest. Several weeks ago we obtained one on loan from Hasselblad, and had a chance to get an initial idea how it would fit our workflow – and how it handles in general. As well, we were very curious to see how appealing it would be to HODINKEE readers who are serious about photography as well as watches (and we know there are a lot of you).

The Hasselblad X1D-50c

The X1D-50c from Hasselblad is a medium format, mirrorless camera.

A medium format digital camera is one with a sensor larger than that found in so-called full-frame cameras. Full frame digital cameras are those with sensors about the same size as a frame of 35mm film, which was the standard format for much – but not all – professional photography for decades, before the advent of digital photography. Medium format in the days of film photography, generally meant 6 x 6 centimeter square film, or 6 x 9 cm., with the term "large format" reserved for anything bigger. All things being equal, a bigger sensor will mean better image quality and more flexibility in shooting. Better image quality does not, of course, mean better pictures, but more on that in a bit.

Hasselblad X1D-50c body front

The Hasselblad X1D-50c is a no-compromises digital image-making machine.

Medium format digital cameras have generally been extremely expensive, and largely tools used by professional fashion/product, studio, and fine art photographers. The cost for just a camera body can run to $40,000 or more, and even for most enthusiasts, such cameras have generally been regarded as either overkill (which is largely true) or as simply too technically challenging (which is also true, about which, more later). However, other than the very high cost of both bodies and lenses, the sheer size of medium format cameras has been a major block to more widespread use. 

The X1D is actually smaller and lighter than some full frame DSLRs, and although the lenses add unavoidable bulk, I was still able to easily fit an X1D with either of the supplied lenses mounted, into a small bag that I generally use for holding a Micro 4/3 camera (admittedly with a battery grip, but still) and zoom lens, when I’m shooting an event. Think about that – a medium format camera in a Micro 4/3 bag; that’s pretty unprecedented.

Hasselblad X1D-50c hand held

Though it’s substantial in your hand, the Hasselblad X1D-50c is still remarkably compact for a medium format camera.

The X1D is one of the most rigorously modern cameras I’ve ever seen. There’s no attempt whatsoever to pander to the nostalgia for classic film cameras that drives a lot of mirrorless camera design – no SLR-like pseudo-pentaprism housing for the finder; no rangefinder-like styling. The body is a solid block of milled aluminum and though it feels – well, like you’d expect a block of precision-machined metal to feel, which is to say extremely substantial – it’s still much lighter than most other medium format cameras. For comparison, Hasselblad’s H6D-50C medium format camera is over two kilograms, with a lens mounted; the X1D (camera and battery only) is 725 grams. To put that in watch terms, it’s the weight of 5.1 Seiko SKX 007 dive watches (as measured in our weigh-off of watches in the office from last year). Again, the lens naturally adds a lot of mass, but this is a truly portable medium format rig and on that score, the most consumer-friendly camera in Hasselblad’s current portfolio by a considerable margin.

In a way, it’s also one of the most honest cameras I’ve ever used. It’s frankly and unapologetically – even exuberantly – non-analog: a huge sensor with a huge battery and a huge lens, and that’s pretty much it. There’s something very refreshing about the approach Hasselblad’s taken to designing something that’s clearly meant to appeal aesthetically as well as technically. Practically speaking, it means operation is in general as straightforward as the design. Many operations are accessed via the touchscreen, but there are ample manual control points as well, including a rather nifty mode dial that sits recessed into the body top, until you press it and it pops up. With your right hand on the grip, you can reach both the front and back context-dependent scroll wheels and of course, the big orange shutter button; there’s a dedicated white balance/ISO button up top, next to an AFL/AEL button, four menu buttons flanking the touchscreen, and that’s it. Creative modes and film simulation modes? Surely you jest. 

Hasselblad X1D-50c touchscreen.

The Hasselblad X1D-50c touchscreen is an essential part of the camera’s control system.

Hasselblad X1D-50c top plate

Physical control points are easily accessible and offer excellent feel.

Right now you have two lens options – a 45mm f/3.5, and a 90mm f/3.2, which on this sensor, are the equivalent of a 37mm and 75mm lens on a full frame camera. Obviously these focal lengths cover a lot of bases, but  there’s a lens road map behind the XCD mount and more glass is in the pipeline. By 2018, Hasselblad says a total of 7 lenses will be available (including, most interestingly for our purposes, a 120mm macro which ought to be magic for watch photography) as well as adapters allowing use of other Hasselblad medium format lenses on the X1D body.

The X1D-50c may fit in a bag designed for a Micro 4/3 camera, but in more ways than one, a Micro 4/3 camera this manifestly is not, and for me – an habitual M4/3 user – the transition was definitely a transition, and not without speed bumps. The entire shooting experience is much more deliberate – the bigger sensor means longer startup time (around six seconds) and there are a whole host of other differences inherent to both the camera and the format. For one thing, I’ve gotten a little sloppy about shutter speed, thanks to the the in-camera image stabilization in the M4/3 cameras I’ve been using for the last four years; for another thing, the generally shallower depth of field you get from a medium format camera means you have to be that much more careful about hitting focus. And this is not an inconspicuous camera; the body is surprisingly compact for the sensor size, but it’s still hefty enough, and big enough with the lens mounted, that it’s not so easy to fade into the woodwork if you’re trying to do candid street shooting. 

This is a camera that demands your undivided attention, and then some. However, when everything comes together you get almost unbelievable image quality.

Jack Forster Chair In Winter photograph

Urban winter landscape, New York.

Jack Forster, Lower East Side NYC

Neighbors, Lower East Side, New York.

Portrait, William Massena by Jack Forster

Dressed to kill at Baselworld 2017.

The first time I opened a file out of the camera I was just floored – now, admittedly, any medium format file is going to wow a person who’s used to M4/3 or APSC, but it was still a shock. The sheer level of detail in each file as well as the inherent capacities of the sensor in terms of dynamic range was staggering. Looking at processed files full screen on a Retina display iMac was hypnotic – that is, when the image was a good one.

Hall 1, Baselworld 2017.

Hall 1, Baselworld 2017.

Head and Flowers, Jack Forster

Hall 1.2, Baselworld 2017

Baselworld 2017 Jack Forster

Semi-public transportation, Baselworld 2017.

Hall 1, Baselworld 2017, Baselworld News model.

Entrance to Hall 1, Baselworld 2017.

The one thing we did not get to do with the X1D-50c is see how it works for product photography – for that, we have to wait for the upcoming 120mm macro lens, which is coming up this summer. I suspect that lens on the X1D-50c is going to be both extremely unforgiving and very rewarding to work with, and probably unforgiving to watches as well – that level of resolution is going to give a very exact idea of the level of quality of a watch overall, and especially the level of finish of various components, which after all is what consumer oriented product photography done for review purposes ought to do. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that body and lens back to work with and when and if we do, we’ll update you.

I said earlier that there was a difference between good image quality and a good picture. That’s more true now than it has been, probably, in the entire history of photography. There’s a great interview with Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt in which he’s asked if he thinks digital is "corrupting" photography.

He says, "Yes, I do think digital is indeed corrupting the world of photography … when things are too easy, people get sloppy, and sloppiness is not good for photography." 

The salutary thing about the X1D, from the standpoint of becoming a more disciplined photographer, is that you will not get away with sloppiness. I think the best way to think of it, especially the first couple of weeks you’re using one, is as an amplifier of whatever basic virtues you either do or do not have in a picture. If you’ve got everything right, you’re going to be rewarded with something noticeably more impactful than you could get out of a smaller format. You’ll get a certain meditative depth and richness that, at its best, can give a photograph a kind of inherent aesthetic dignity. 

However this is also a camera that will equally happily, absolutely positively, bite you in the ass if you are not paying attention. A throwaway image in photography is the rule, rather than the exception (Magnum founder Henri Cartier-Bresson said, towards the end of his life, "Really, how many pictures can you look at more than once?") but still, looking through one’s missed shots with the X1D is noticeably more painful than with a smaller format camera. Each recorded moment of inattention, hesitation, cowardice, or just plain failure to get all your ducks in a row technically, looks like worse than just some more bad shots; they start to take on the dimensions of an actual moral failing.

Hasselblad x1d-50c, lifestyle image

So in that sense, it’s a shock to shoot with the X1D. However, it’s also, I think, good for you. You have to really think, and not just more, but differently as well. You have to think ahead, about what’s happening in the world around you. As it turns out, paying attention with the X1D doesn’t just mean paying more attention to the camera, it means being more mindful about the world in general, which is something that pays dividends even when the camera’s off and in your bag. 

The requirement for that kind of careful attention was always the great thing about shooting film, and I think that necessity for mindfulness about the world is what a lot of people who are returning to film, or discovering it for the first time, are really looking for, even if they don’t exactly know it. And that’s maybe one of the most interesting thing about this camera – this uncompromisingly digital image-making device can, surprisingly, get you in a very analogue state of mind.

The Hasselblad X1D-50c is $8,995 in the US. Sensor, CMOS, 50MP, 43.8mm x 32.9mm. Capture, raw (Hasselblad 3Fr) + JPEG; ISO 200-25,600. Dual card slots. Touchscreen, 920k pixels, with pinch-and-zoom. Raw files supported in Lightroom and Photoshop. Lenses, Hasselblad XCD mount (H mount available with adapter) with in-lens shutter. Weather sealed all aluminum body (lenses weather sealed as well). Battery, Li-on, 3200 mAh. Nikon compatible hot shoe with flash sync to all shutter speeds (up to 1/2000). More info at hasselblad.com.

For more on the X1D-50c and on medium format photography in general – especially why you’d use it, and what it does and doesn’t mean creatively – I strongly recommend looking at photographer and essayist (and watch enthusiast) Ming Thein’s extensive coverage of both the camera in particular, and the format in general, at mingthein.com. 

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The New ‘NeoLucida XL’ Camera Lucida Makes it Easier to Trace What You See

Artist and SAIC professor Pablo Garcia (previously) has added an update to his previous take on the two century old Camera Lucida, an optical device that allows you to trace images and scenes directly from life. The new version, NeoLucida XL, is similar to its predecessor, however with a much larger viewfinder. The prism inside the updated analog device remains the same size, while the larger mirror and glass make it much easier to draw the projected “ghost image.” You can read more about the device on its Kickstarter page.

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Yay or Nay? aka our own “Shark Tank”

how to cover up dowel holes

Philipp wrote me an email and wanted honest feedback from the IKEA community on the thingamajig he invented to cover up dowel holes in the PAX wardrobes, BILLY bookcases and others. He calls them “beauty-clicks”. I know, not the best name.

The idea is good, and I personally think they look better than Variera cover caps. Let me just say before we go further, this is NOT a sponsored post. Just wanted to help Philipp because I liked his idea and I hope we, collectively, can point him towards the right direction for his product.

How to install beauty clicks bar

How to install Beauty Clicks:

1. Just measure the space between shelves.

2. Cut the bar strip.

3. Insert the clips into the dowel holes.

4. Click on the bar.

Beauty Clicks - how to cover up dowel holes  Beauty clicks - how to cover up dowel holes

It also comes in a variety of colours. Neat, right? Sadly these bars aren’t flying off the shelves.

What is Philipp not getting right? He appreciates any feedback he can get on his Beauty Clicks. Just drop a comment.

beauty clicks - how to cover up dowel holes

What do you think? Yay or Nay? To find out more about Beauty Clicks, visit this link.


survey services

The post Yay or Nay? aka our own “Shark Tank” appeared first on IKEA Hackers.

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Gerd Leufert (1914-1988)

Gerd Leufert was born in 1914 in the coastal Lithuanian town of Memel. He attended the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) in Munich in 1939 where he studied graphic design, and became a member of the Werkbund, an interdisciplinary association founded on the social importance of design and craftsmanship.

Gerd LeufertGerd Leufert, c1960, via ceciliadetorres.com.

He worked for several German publishing houses, before migrating to Caracas, Venezuela, in 1951, where he established the foundations for the country’s graphic design profession, and where he made his greatest contribution to visual culture, graphic design, and museology.

Gerd Leufert logosEmblemática de Gerd Leufert, in 2014, via caracasdesign.org.

Gerd worked as a designer, draughtsman, engraver, painter and sculptor, as well as teacher and curator. So this small sample of symbols is just a fraction of what he created.

Gerd Leufert logo
Centro Médico Docente La Trinidad
Hospital
1972

Gerd Leufert logo
Imposibilia
Design exhibition
1968

Gerd Leufert logo
Color, Linea, Luz
Art exhibition
1969

Gerd Leufert logo
Architecture 70
Architectural congress
1969

Gerd Leufert logo
Floron
Artificial flowers
1960s

Gerd Leufert logo
Instituto de Deseño
Design institute
1964

Gerd Leufert logo
Museo de Arte, Caracas
Museum
1983

See more symbols at Logobook.
Gerd Leufert biography, on gegoandgerd.org.
Life gestures, works on paper, 1960-1995, on ceciliadetorres.com.

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My Backyard

Link to Derek Sivers on Tim Ferris

Yesterday I mentioned that I was hanging out with Derek and maybe you don’t know who he is! Here’s a link to a podcast interview with Tim Ferriss you may enjoy!

Daily Photo – My Backyard

This is one of the very first photos I took with the X1D. The sun was getting kind of a low, and we have a bunch of land out back where sometimes I go for a wander. I decided to take my new toy out with me! I was basically testing different F-Stops… this is where I ended up at F/22. The F/16 shot looked 95% the same, except this one kept the bits in the foreground a weeeeee bit sharper. This was taken with the 30mm lens.

My Backyard

Photo Information


  • Date Taken2017-03-21 23:54:05
  • CameraX1D-50c
  • Camera MakeHasselblad
  • Exposure Time1/60
  • Aperture3.5
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length30.0 mm
  • FlashNo Flash
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

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Poem of the Day: The One Thing That Can Save America

Is anything central?
Orchards flung out on the land,
Urban forests, rustic plantations, knee-high hills?
Are place names central?
Elm Grove, Adcock Corner, Story Book Farm?
As they concur with a rush at eye level
Beating themselves into eyes which have had enough
Thank you, no more thank you.
And they come on like scenery mingled with darkness
The damp plains, overgrown suburbs,
Places of known civic pride, of civil obscurity.
 
These are connected to my version of America
But the juice is elsewhere.
This morning as I walked out of your room
After breakfast crosshatched with
Backward and forward glances, backward into light,
Forward into unfamiliar light,
Was it our doing, and was it
The material, the lumber of life, or of lives
We were measuring, counting?
A mood soon to be forgotten
In crossed girders of light, cool downtown shadow
In this morning that has seized us again?
 
I know that I braid too much on my own
Snapped-off perceptions of things as they come to me.
They are private and always will be.
Where then are the private turns of event
Destined to bloom later like golden chimes
Released over a city from a highest tower?
The quirky things that happen to me, and I tell you,
And you know instantly what I mean?
What remote orchard reached by winding roads
Hides them? Where are these roots?
 
It is the lumps and trials
That tell us whether we shall be known
And whether our fate can be exemplary, like a star.
All the rest is waiting
For a letter that never arrives,
Day after day, the exasperation
Until finally you have ripped it open not knowing what it is,
The two envelope halves lying on a plate.
The message was wise, and seemingly
Dictated a long time ago, but its time has still
Not arrived, telling of danger, and the mostly limited
Steps that can be taken against danger
Now and in the future, in cool yards,
In quiet small houses in the country,
Our country, in fenced areas, in cool shady streets.
John Ashbery, "The One Thing that Can Save America" from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Copyright © 1975 by John Ashbery.  Used by permission of Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
 

Source: Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror(Viking Press, 1975)

John Ashbery

Biography
More poems by this author

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I Want to Hear From You!

The funny thing about writing and sharing content is that it’s often one-sided.

You’re able to hear from me and get to know me through newsletters, blog posts, webinars, and social media, but it isn’t very often that I get to hear from you and get to know you better!

But I want to get to know you. 

And I want my content to be helpful for you.

So I’m switching things up today.

I Want to Hear From You | Elle & Company

I’ve created a simple questionnaire with 13 questions for you.

This is your opportunity to tell me more about yourself, let me know why you follow along, and weigh in on what you hope to see from Elle & Company in the future.

I have some big goals and changes in store these next few months, all of which work toward becoming an even greater business resource for you. 

And that’s why your feedback is super valuable; I want Elle & Company to continue to improve and evolve, and I want to involve you in the process.

Are you willing to give me a couple minutes of your time today? I would be so grateful.

I’m keeping this survey anonymous, so please feel free to leave honest feedback. Know that I will read each one and take your comments to heart.

Take the Survey

I know the joy of creating a profitable business doing something I love, and my mission is to help you do the same. 

I can’t wait to get to know you better!

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Shifts in subject matter over time

AB0000590-601 copy
2017

A recent discussion withs one photographer friends entered around changes in our output over time – with almost all of us present (7/8) remarking that what we shot now was very different from what we shot when we started out – or even halfway through our careers. The eighth man was a relative beginner, with 3-4 years of experience compared to the 10 (or 15, or even 20+) years in the rest of the group’s case. The funny thing was that most of us never even noticed it happening; it sort of just did. In a lot of cases, we don’t really feel that different about working with our current subjects as compared to earlier ones, either. I left thinking that a lot of what is commonly perpetuated in the art and commercial worlds (“So-and-so must be great because they has 30 years of experience shooting the same thing”) may well be both untrue and a deliberate delusion.

Here’s where the alternative working title for this post comes in: You won’t be shooting the same thing forever.

_3002491bw copy
2008

The most obvious underlying causes are due to what we eventually termed ‘organic personal changes’ – from something as simple as picking up portraiture or biasing towards family documentary with the arrival of a child, for instance; or photographing subject matter that you become interested in outside photography (in the instance of one of the group, cycling). I myself started photography this way: firstly, to document some of my university experiences (abject failure; I had neither the understanding or technique to have the level of control I required to say what I wanted, not the funds to buy enough film to practice, or hardware beyond a point and shoot) – then later on, as part of the horological hobby. I wanted to buy myself a decent watch, but had a limited budget and one bullet to fire; somehow in the course of research I landed up falling completely down the rabbit hole and out the other side into the world of independent and extremely high end horology – needless to which to say I didn’t – and still don’t – have any hope in hell of affording. I instead collected knowledge and photographs of the watches of friends who were kind enough to let me stick them inside my diffuser box. Naturally, I wasn’t happy with the results because they were both miles from what I saw, and miles from what I was seeing both other people and the commercial guys produce. The quest, as they say, was on.

_7041903 copy
2011

The next set of changes I think of as environmental and/or business-related: if you’re only shooting as a hobby and have limited time and funds, the rate of improvement/ change will be naturally much slower; leave it too long betweens sessions and you probably won’t see any improvement at all because we have a tendency to forget if we don’t practice. On the other hand, if you land up shooting intensively – you’ll eventually reach a point where you wonder if you could do this for more than a hobby, or at any rate use it to partially offset the costs involved. One of two things happens at this point: either you find that what you enjoy shooting doesn’t match what’s commercially viable, and you change focus to match (usually, if you’ve already made the leap, or if your repertoire is diverse anyway) – or you abandon the idea. Naturally, the first option results in a shift towards what does work economically – and the second tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth, resulting in a subconscious shift anyway.

_7045460 copy
2011

As a pro, one has to be very careful not to pick the best of all the work you do to display in your portfolio: if you do, you’ll be hired with a scope to generally match what you’ve shot before. In other words: your portfolio is self-reinforcing. This is important, because it means that if you’re shooting subject matter that’s just to pay the bills – rather than because you enjoy it – there’s a very high risk that you’ll land up losing creative drive because you’re not working with inspiring subjects. The converse is also of course possible: you land up finding new inspiration from subjects you might not otherwise have considered previously. I know this has happened to me personally with industrial and heavy engineering documentary work.

_7047337 copy
2011

There’s also the question of hardware and technical capability: I don’t like to place too much emphasis on this simply because I believe the period where digital hardware was truly a limitation has passed; even if this was certainly the case as late as five years ago. We can now produce higher quality results under a wider shooting envelope than ever (both light and physical circumstances); AF tracking systems are more prescient; post processing is more flexible, and cost accessibility better than ever. There are really no excuses. However – there was a time when each generational leap opened up new possibilities; I remember the D3 allowing all sorts of ‘available darkness’ work; today, noise levels are comparable or lower on M4/3, with double the resolution. Pushing the envelope to see what else we could do, and how that could be integrated with our creative choices, was both liberating, commercially differentiating, and successes egged you on to keep going. Curiously, lighting hardware hasn’t fundamentally changed much – yes, there are more portable options, but we haven’t fundamentally gotten that much more power or flexibility.

_7057468 copy
2012

I also think that beyond a certain level, technique becomes universal – any of my students will tell you that the basics really don’t change with subject matter: you still need to light, to isolate, to compose and structure, and to know what you want to say. You might have more or less flexibility, but fundamentally – you’re still working with the same visual vocabulary, whether you’re writing about people or landscapes or watches. With experience, a photographer can a decent job with any subject matter: but the truly great photographs require understanding of the subject matter beyond the visual; without that, there can be no story, and without knowing the story you want to tell, it’s impossible to structure an image that is beyond skin deep. What I find more interesting though is cross pollination of specialist techniques across subject matter: lighting that I use for watches, for instance, can be applied at a larger scale to cars; or stealth and observation with wildlife used for reportage and documentary of people. I think of it as the visual analog to having a bigger vocabulary.

_8019332 copy
2012

A bit of research shows that a lot of the famous/ successful photographers shoot across genres and subject matter, even though I’ve been told by countless galleries and industry pundits (including Magnum representatives, who went so far as to suggest that you should only ever work in color or black and white but not both) that to be an expert you can and must only do one thing etc – I think the truth is you should probably curate your displayed work to be limited to only the work you want to do more off and be known for, but not limit your own personal creative experimentation. I can see the value in focus, but simply fail to see how you can be so sure that a single subject and/or style is the way without having tried enough other options. Apparently it’s impossible for people to be good at more than one thing, or so rare that it’s believed to be impossible*.

*I think of this as the ego problem: I can’t do it therefore nobody else possibly can, and because assessment is subjective, I can continue to believe what I want.

Yet if you look at the greater body of work of the same artists cited as examples, it’s clear that cross-pollination was hugely responsible for the work they were famous for. Magritte was also a photographer, as was Kubrick; neither were known for it. Salgado’s recent work is heavily dominated by landscapes – all in a distinct, dramatic style – even though he’s almost always known for his work with people. Most really commercially successful pros will be able to pull together a credible portfolio of work from any subject, because at some point they’ll have shot it – even if that’s not what they want to be known for. Even I’ve shot a few weddings.

_8052124 copy
2014

I’ve illustrated this article with a series of watch photographs because that’s perhaps the subject matter with the greatest longevity and consistency for me; whilst I photograph few watches now for various reasons** – I still do a few assignments a year, plus photograph personal pieces. Some of these images will still make the portfolio because I think they’re representative of what I want to shoot. It also turns out that 2011-2012 was the period of greatest experimentation and progress for me personally and professionally with this subject – which was not what I thought going into this article. And the longevity of subject matter makes for a good barometer; I’ve tried to select images that are representative of my general work at the time of capture.

H51-B0019175-88 copy
2016

Even though my personal interest has so far outlasted my involvement in photography, it’s clear that both my way of photographing, my vision and my own subject interests have changed – that’s the organic and business shift I was alluding to earlier. I think from my best of 2016 curation (part I, part II) it’s clear that both my personal and professional subject matter are completely different to where I started out – when perhaps 90% of my work was horological. I can only wonder what I’ll be shooting in another ten years… MT

**A lack of interest in retouching, the desire to keep another hobby separate and non-commercial and purely for personal enjoyment, local market protectionism meaning hiring of foreign photographers has greatly dropped in the last few years, the rise of CG images etc.

I cover basic watch photography in three parts here, here and here.

__________________

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

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Shifts in subject matter over time

AB0000590-601 copy
2017

A recent discussion withs one photographer friends entered around changes in our output over time – with almost all of us present (7/8) remarking that what we shot now was very different from what we shot when we started out – or even halfway through our careers. The eighth man was a relative beginner, with 3-4 years of experience compared to the 10 (or 15, or even 20+) years in the rest of the group’s case. The funny thing was that most of us never even noticed it happening; it sort of just did. In a lot of cases, we don’t really feel that different about working with our current subjects as compared to earlier ones, either. I left thinking that a lot of what is commonly perpetuated in the art and commercial worlds (“So-and-so must be great because they has 30 years of experience shooting the same thing”) may well be both untrue and a deliberate delusion.

Here’s where the alternative working title for this post comes in: You won’t be shooting the same thing forever.

_3002491bw copy
2008

The most obvious underlying causes are due to what we eventually termed ‘organic personal changes’ – from something as simple as picking up portraiture or biasing towards family documentary with the arrival of a child, for instance; or photographing subject matter that you become interested in outside photography (in the instance of one of the group, cycling). I myself started photography this way: firstly, to document some of my university experiences (abject failure; I had neither the understanding or technique to have the level of control I required to say what I wanted, not the funds to buy enough film to practice, or hardware beyond a point and shoot) – then later on, as part of the horological hobby. I wanted to buy myself a decent watch, but had a limited budget and one bullet to fire; somehow in the course of research I landed up falling completely down the rabbit hole and out the other side into the world of independent and extremely high end horology – needless to which to say I didn’t – and still don’t – have any hope in hell of affording. I instead collected knowledge and photographs of the watches of friends who were kind enough to let me stick them inside my diffuser box. Naturally, I wasn’t happy with the results because they were both miles from what I saw, and miles from what I was seeing both other people and the commercial guys produce. The quest, as they say, was on.

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2011

The next set of changes I think of as environmental and/or business-related: if you’re only shooting as a hobby and have limited time and funds, the rate of improvement/ change will be naturally much slower; leave it too long betweens sessions and you probably won’t see any improvement at all because we have a tendency to forget if we don’t practice. On the other hand, if you land up shooting intensively – you’ll eventually reach a point where you wonder if you could do this for more than a hobby, or at any rate use it to partially offset the costs involved. One of two things happens at this point: either you find that what you enjoy shooting doesn’t match what’s commercially viable, and you change focus to match (usually, if you’ve already made the leap, or if your repertoire is diverse anyway) – or you abandon the idea. Naturally, the first option results in a shift towards what does work economically – and the second tends to leave a bad taste in the mouth, resulting in a subconscious shift anyway.

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2011

As a pro, one has to be very careful not to pick the best of all the work you do to display in your portfolio: if you do, you’ll be hired with a scope to generally match what you’ve shot before. In other words: your portfolio is self-reinforcing. This is important, because it means that if you’re shooting subject matter that’s just to pay the bills – rather than because you enjoy it – there’s a very high risk that you’ll land up losing creative drive because you’re not working with inspiring subjects. The converse is also of course possible: you land up finding new inspiration from subjects you might not otherwise have considered previously. I know this has happened to me personally with industrial and heavy engineering documentary work.

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2011

There’s also the question of hardware and technical capability: I don’t like to place too much emphasis on this simply because I believe the period where digital hardware was truly a limitation has passed; even if this was certainly the case as late as five years ago. We can now produce higher quality results under a wider shooting envelope than ever (both light and physical circumstances); AF tracking systems are more prescient; post processing is more flexible, and cost accessibility better than ever. There are really no excuses. However – there was a time when each generational leap opened up new possibilities; I remember the D3 allowing all sorts of ‘available darkness’ work; today, noise levels are comparable or lower on M4/3, with double the resolution. Pushing the envelope to see what else we could do, and how that could be integrated with our creative choices, was both liberating, commercially differentiating, and successes egged you on to keep going. Curiously, lighting hardware hasn’t fundamentally changed much – yes, there are more portable options, but we haven’t fundamentally gotten that much more power or flexibility.

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2012

I also think that beyond a certain level, technique becomes universal – any of my students will tell you that the basics really don’t change with subject matter: you still need to light, to isolate, to compose and structure, and to know what you want to say. You might have more or less flexibility, but fundamentally – you’re still working with the same visual vocabulary, whether you’re writing about people or landscapes or watches. With experience, a photographer can a decent job with any subject matter: but the truly great photographs require understanding of the subject matter beyond the visual; without that, there can be no story, and without knowing the story you want to tell, it’s impossible to structure an image that is beyond skin deep. What I find more interesting though is cross pollination of specialist techniques across subject matter: lighting that I use for watches, for instance, can be applied at a larger scale to cars; or stealth and observation with wildlife used for reportage and documentary of people. I think of it as the visual analog to having a bigger vocabulary.

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2012

A bit of research shows that a lot of the famous/ successful photographers shoot across genres and subject matter, even though I’ve been told by countless galleries and industry pundits (including Magnum representatives, who went so far as to suggest that you should only ever work in color or black and white but not both) that to be an expert you can and must only do one thing etc – I think the truth is you should probably curate your displayed work to be limited to only the work you want to do more off and be known for, but not limit your own personal creative experimentation. I can see the value in focus, but simply fail to see how you can be so sure that a single subject and/or style is the way without having tried enough other options. Apparently it’s impossible for people to be good at more than one thing, or so rare that it’s believed to be impossible*.

*I think of this as the ego problem: I can’t do it therefore nobody else possibly can, and because assessment is subjective, I can continue to believe what I want.

Yet if you look at the greater body of work of the same artists cited as examples, it’s clear that cross-pollination was hugely responsible for the work they were famous for. Magritte was also a photographer, as was Kubrick; neither were known for it. Salgado’s recent work is heavily dominated by landscapes – all in a distinct, dramatic style – even though he’s almost always known for his work with people. Most really commercially successful pros will be able to pull together a credible portfolio of work from any subject, because at some point they’ll have shot it – even if that’s not what they want to be known for. Even I’ve shot a few weddings.

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2014

I’ve illustrated this article with a series of watch photographs because that’s perhaps the subject matter with the greatest longevity and consistency for me; whilst I photograph few watches now for various reasons** – I still do a few assignments a year, plus photograph personal pieces. Some of these images will still make the portfolio because I think they’re representative of what I want to shoot. It also turns out that 2011-2012 was the period of greatest experimentation and progress for me personally and professionally with this subject – which was not what I thought going into this article. And the longevity of subject matter makes for a good barometer; I’ve tried to select images that are representative of my general work at the time of capture.

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2016

Even though my personal interest has so far outlasted my involvement in photography, it’s clear that both my way of photographing, my vision and my own subject interests have changed – that’s the organic and business shift I was alluding to earlier. I think from my best of 2016 curation (part I, part II) it’s clear that both my personal and professional subject matter are completely different to where I started out – when perhaps 90% of my work was horological. I can only wonder what I’ll be shooting in another ten years… MT

**A lack of interest in retouching, the desire to keep another hobby separate and non-commercial and purely for personal enjoyment, local market protectionism meaning hiring of foreign photographers has greatly dropped in the last few years, the rise of CG images etc.

I cover basic watch photography in three parts here, here and here.

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WordPress Themes: 20 Responsive, SEO Optimize Multipurpose WP Themes

Build your website with fully SEO optimized, Responsive WordPress Themes. All WP themes are based on Bootstrap framework and HTML5/CSS3 technologies, with creative design, clean and elegant, professionally coded with lots of customized options. These WordPress themes are perfect solution for any type of business, particularly indicated for creative freelancers, smart companies or innovative, startups, freelancers, designers, photographers, illustrators, bloggers, digital studios or web agencies.

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WordPress Themes (Responsive & SEO Ready)

This is a collection of professional, easy to use, highly dynamic, engaging and responsive WordPress website themes. All themes are SEO optimized for smartphone and tablets, its provides a clear documentation and no coding knowledge is required. Below every theme is ready to use, you can check live demo of each theme.

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Aoraki : Multi-Concept Business WordPress Theme

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Celebrate Software, App, Startup Business Theme is crafted to meet the needs of Software, App, Startup as well as Tech Industry. Theme is easy to setup & customize.

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Fortune : Business Consulting and Professional Services WordPress Theme

Fortune is the Perfect Finance, Consulting & Professional Business WordPress Theme. Fortune is best suited for corporate website like Financial Advisor, Accountant, Consulting Firms, insurance, loan, tax help, Investment firm etc. This is a business template that is help full for online presence for Corporate Business and Financial Firms. Fortune is Fully Responsive! Strong focus on the smartphone and tablet experience

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OneMax : Responsive Multi-Purpose WordPress Theme

OneMax is a design studio that specializes in WordPress design for brands of all sizes. We can help you create a modern website that will impress your customers and help you win in your business.

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Adriatic : Responsive Multi-Purpose Theme

Adriatic Theme is an Responsive, Multipurpose, Clean designed Seo friendly WordPress Theme for all kind of business. Adriatic features full and seamless integration with Visual Composer and Massive Addons. Adriatic comes bundled with Visual Composer page builder, Massive Addons, Slider Revolution and The Grid. One-click theme installation feature so you can easily install themes.

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Nivo : Responsive Multi-Purpose Business WordPress Theme

Nivo is a Responsive WordPress (Desktop, tablet, mobile phone…) simple, clean and Professional theme. It comes with Pages, Awesome Slideshows, Color Variations. Easy-to-customize and fully featured design. This theme suitable for Company, Business, Blog and Portfolio and doctors, dentists, hospitals, health clinics, surgeons and any type of health or medical organization much more. Create Outstanding Website or Blog in Minutes!

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OZUN is a Modern, Unique and Multipurpose WordPress Theme for Creatives which suits any kind of Corporate Company website.

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Financial King Corporate WordPress Theme : Finance WP

Financial King is a finance & business WordPress theme. It is specially designed for Business, Financial Advisor, Accountant, Law Firm, Wealth Advisor, Investment and general corporate website. This theme comes with super powerful page builder which allow you to create your site using drag drop ability. Its The Perfect Finance, Consulting & Business WordPress Theme.

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Xecuter : Responsive WordPress Blog Magazine Theme

Xecuter is a beautiful and stylish Magazine WordPress theme featuring a unique and responsive two sidebar layout. The theme comes with several awesome features, including a featured posts slideshow, a magazine homepage template, a widgetized header area

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Universal : Business Consulting and Professional Services WordPress Theme

Universal is the Perfect Finance, Consulting & Professional Business WordPress Theme. Universal is best suited for corporate website like Financial Advisor, Accountant, Consulting Firms, insurance, loan, tax help, Investment firm etc. This is a business template that is help full for online presence for Corporate Business and Financial Firms. Universal is Fully Responsive! Strong focus on the smartphone and tablet experience

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WOWmall : fastest WordPress WooCommerce theme

WowMall WordPress Woocommerce theme is definitely.We have carefully combined each & every demo to ensure that a clean and modern design is provided to our customers. Easy to configure and customize in the admin panel. You can mix different content blocks and set predefined structures. Only trusted schemes checked by years of ui experience.

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Grant : Responsive Charity WordPress Theme

GRANT – NONPROFIT CHARITY WordPress Theme is specially design for non profit organization such as charity, child care, orphan, lorn etc.. We hope you can build your site so much easy way without any hassle.

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PersonX is a clean & minimal personal portfolio & blog theme, PersonX is suitable for individual’s, freelancers, graphic designers, photographers or any kind of creative institution or person.

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Venster – Computer Woocommerce WordPress Theme

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