Monday, May 13, 2013

Interview with Ming Thein

Ming Thein is a photographer based-in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He is a physicist by training and graduated from Oxford at 16. Thein pecializes in watches, food and architecture/ interiors, and shares his knowledge through workshops and his photography blog. He armed with a camera since 18.

We have featured his blog here before. And today, just take a look to the interview between us to know more himself and his photography.

Hi Ming, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I wasn't always a photographer professionally, but it's been a consuming passion since I first seriously picked up a camera out of boredom about twelve years ago. I've shot commissions on and off for the last eight years, was editor/ contributing editor of a Malaysian photo magazine for a good five years, and went full time pro - early in 2012. (This was actually my fourth attempt). I've actually got a masters in physics from Oxford, and my professional background is strategy/ M&A/ private equity. One day I woke up and decided that enough was enough: work just wasn't fun, and I was spending far too much of my life on it. Fortunately, my wife supported me, and here we are today…a year and a half down the road, and so far, so good. These days, I'm a commercial photographer based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - one of the few - specialising in watches; I shoot for a lot of the big Swiss brands. I also shoot architecture regionally. I also teach (Singapore, Amsterdam, Prague and Munich workshops later this year) and run the popular site, which I've tried to make into something I'd want to read - it's the 'thinking man's photography daily'.

How did you first get into photography?
Boredom, actually. I was in audit - I think that's reason enough on its own! I was also very interested in watches at the time - but everything I liked I couldn't afford, so I learned to photograph them well instead. Its one of the reasons why I specialise in watch photography now - because I've shot over six hundred of them, at the last count.

You shoot both film and digital. How do you use them both, how do their differences work for you, and do you have a preference between the two?
Digital is for work and teaching: it's about consistency/ control for the former, and instant feedback for the latter. For my personal work, I've had several dalliances with film but none of them really stuck until recently; the difference is now I only shoot black and white film and do the developing and scanning myself with a DSLR and home-made rig. The results blow away what I was getting out of commercial outfits, and it's a lot cheaper, too. I started getting back into film with 35mm, but to be honest, I hardly shoot that these days; I acquired a Hasselblad 501C in late 2012 and never looked back. These days, when I just want to go out and shoot for myself, I almost always take the Hasselblad. There's something liberating yet disciplined about just having 12 exposures on a roll and no meter…it's you and you only, no magic electronics behind it. You know exactly (or should, with practice) what the camera is going to do.

Your favorite analogue camera? Why?
It's a toss up between my F2 Titan and my Hasselblad 501C. The former because it's simply an object of such exquisite beauty; though I admit I'm a little afraid to use it because of the stratospheric cost and the fact that my example is pretty much mint and unused. The latter because of the images it produces, the viewfinder, and the solid mechanical-ness of it all; both because their tactile feel is unmatched by any of the modern electronic stuff. You just want to pick them up and shoot with them.

Do you have a favorite photographer?
When I was heavily into photojournalism and documentary work, it was Sebastiao Salgado for his mastery of light and texture. I don't think that's changed, though there are so many excellent photographers now that it's hard to pick any single one as an influence; the classical painters and cinema are more of an influence on me these days. Part of the problem is consistency: the internet has given rise to a lot of one-hit wonders, but they either only have one or two good images, or shoot everything in the same style, or don't have any depth/ range; I think a good breadth of skill and consistency of style across lots of subjects is important. Just because you've never shot X doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to produce a unique take on it - especially if you're supposedly a 'good' photographer.

Do you have any tips for someone who’s just picking up a camera?
Firstly, learn to look for and read light; the rest is secondary. You can make an awesome photo of an ordinary object with the right light, but not the other way around. Second: practice, practice practice. I'm self-taught, but I do experiment a lot in a consistent and scientific manner, so I know what changes do what; it's was very important for me when I started developing my own film - too high a risk of ruining something that might be important otherwise…

Ming, thank you for the interivew.

More of Ming Thein's work can be seen at and

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