Interview: Ming Thein

Ming Thein, Photographer.

Ming Thein, Photographer.

MT has been one of my inspirations in photography. In my opinion, his style is analytic, and accurate. His handling of color, more precisely White Balance is spot on and the rendition of his images is extremely realistic. Besides that, he is a prolific writer when it comes to his blog (which he updates twice a week), he actively engages with the audience and he not only reviews equipment from time to time but he also opinion and philosophy articles that are really worth reading, in an age were internet is flooded by photographers with more skills for copy-cat blogging than for photography itself. 
Said that, enjoy the interview!

1) Tell us little bit about yourself, where have you grown up and in what context, what’s your formal education?

I was born in Malaysia, lived in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and now back in Malaysia again. Part of that was due to my father's job, part of that was for education and work. I'm a physicist and accountant by training and spent 10 years in corporate - mostly strategy and private equity - before deciding I got tired of not seeing any tangible output and doing something irrational like attempting photography as a career.


2) What was the trigger for you to grab the camera for the first time and start with photography?

The desire to capture some passing elements of life like university and friends. Up til that point, my parents had always taken pictures of various life events; I'd wanted to do the same when I was on my own. Digital came and experimentation was free; curiosity took over, I suppose - both for the process and the differences in the way the camera saw compared to what I saw. I got really serious when I developed an interest for watches; since I found the stuff I liked I couldn't afford, I became active in various online communities, made some generous friends, and collected images instead. The rest is history, I suppose.


3) Nowadays Internet is full of photographers/bloggers that don’t offer too much of a novelty when it comes to content. In the other hand, your site grew up to more than a million readers in less than 6 months after its launch. What was your formula for success? 

It depends much on your definition of success: if it's monetization, I've failed miserably. I want to keep my editorial integrity so I don't accept paid ads or product placement/ endorsement, which is how most of the other sites keep afloat. There is no honesty in reviewing something you were paid to say was good. Readership, on the other hand, is something different - I don't think there's any shortcut other than a lot of hard work in both generating unique and regular content, as well as engaging directly with your audience through comments/ email etc. It's grown to the point where it takes 4-5 hours a day for me just to deal with the email and comments; generating content is even more. At some point I will have to seriously revaluate priorities because this is becoming more than a full time job, but not giving the returns of one. And it's not my full time job either...

There is no honesty in reviewing something you were paid to say was good. Readership, on the other hand, is something different - I don’t think there’s any shortcut other than a lot of hard work.
— MT

4) Name 3 photographers that have influenced your work so far.

I don't think I could limit it to just three - there are so many for so many reasons, but not one whose style or work I've though 'I have to shoot like this 100%'. Let's see: Cartier-Bresson for timing; Ansel Adams for tonal control; Nick Brandt for doing it right and showing how much of a difference the output makes; Vivian Maier for carrying on even though nobody saw the images; Capa for getting out there and putting his ass on the line for the image; Salgado's early work for emotion and visual punch (though I think he lost it in later work; it's almost become a caricature of itself); Peter Lik for his marketing machine (but not the images). There are painters like Rene Magritte too - he had awesome clouds; the Old Masters for their quality of light, and the surrealists and impressionists for their alternative interpretations of reality.

5) Unfortunately, there is a lot of detractors when it comes to consider Photography an art. What are your arguments to support the opposite? 

At one point, I'm sure painting and metalwork were not art either. Art grows out of refinement of a craft to the point that it goes beyond fulfilling a need, and the creator feels this deep drive to do it - if only for themselves. An individual can only really decide what art is for you not on an absolute level.

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An individual can only really decide what art is for you not on an absolute level.
— MT

6) I had the privilege of getting to see your ultraprints and the amount of details is just plain huge. Tell us about a little bit of the process and how you came with the idea and how did you engineer that amazing type of printing.

Thank you. Ultraprints lay down real detail at 720 PPI and a very wide colour gamut. This is twice the resolution of a Retina display, and under high magnification the Retina displays actually look much coarser. I was never quite happy with prints because I always felt I was looking at dots on paper and seeing both dots and paper and not so much the image, idea or scene behind it; I wanted to get that transparency back. The whole process is one where the print stage changes the image as little as possible - so it isn't going to harm a good image or help a bad one. We modified drivers, printer hardware and tested a wide variety of papers extensively; it's a process of constant improvement. The hardware modifications were the main step. However: the process is only as good as what goes in, so you really do need to start with perfect files of many pixels to get out results like that; shot discipline and processing workflow play an enormous part in achieving this. I'm resolution limited on a D810 at 10x15", and the difference between that and say double the size is very, very obvious - even though we're still above the 'conventional wisdom' of 300 PPI.

Ultraprints lay down real detail at 720 PPI and a very wide colour gamut. This is twice the resolution of a Retina display.
— MT

7) We’ve talked in person some time back about your future with photography, and you stated that sometimes you don’t see yourself doing the same thing in the long term. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? Any plan to jump to another discipline similar to photography?

I honestly have no idea. The main reason is the market itself - both commercial and teaching - is changing and saturating so quickly whilst simultaneously seeming to degenerate into a pricing contest that the reality is this may not be sustainable economically. People want more and more for free - this is just impossible. I suppose I'll know when the time comes and responsibilities take priority again. But the passion and drive to make images remains strong.

8) Last question: I know you have an very extensive archive of images, but, what is the photograph that represents you the best and the one that you like the most? (send me the flick links so I can illustrate)

I believe it's always going to be the next one  - otherwise, why keep shooting?

thanks for your time mt!