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Low Self-Esteem and Defending Your Value as a Creative by Michael Jin

©2019 Michael Jin.

I have made no secret of my struggles with depression and low self-esteem. While I take medication to mitigate the effects, they are insidious forces that have a tendency to creep up when least expected. As a creative, there is an extremely fine line that we consistently walk the edge of. This is the line between realistic self-evaluation and destructive pessimism. In order to grow, one needs to examine his work and identify the weaknesses that require improvement. Doing so, however, can cause one to focus on the constant inadequacy that comes with not being perfect. This is a basic inner struggle that many creatives contend with and one that I have spoken about previously.

The struggle is enhanced, however, when it is removed from the realm of personal thoughts to the realm of business. As a creative working within a creative field, we are tasked with not only creating work, but attributing value to it in the form of our pricing. This is a tricky process and one which many books have been written about. Certainly, you can look at pricing across the market and place yourself somewhere that you deem reasonable based upon factors such as experience, brand recognition, quality of work, etc. and it would be a decent solution to the problem, but what happens when you run into a situation where the market is saturated with hobbyists who are willing to work for a credit or some paltry sum that is not viable to build an income from? Do you value your time and work the same way they do? Do you stick to your guns and charge based on what you need in order for all of this to be worth it to you? Do you pack up and find another line of work?

This is not a polemic against people willing to work for free or people who are taking side gigs just to pay for their own hobby. While many of them are genuinely talented and are underselling themselves, they are not responsible for thinking about others. As long as they are meeting their own goals, they are justified in pricing themselves however they choose. For anyone who tries to make a primary income from photography, however, it is a reality that needs to be accounted for. How do you defend your value to the potential clients to whom you are quoting a price for work?

The simple answer is to be better. You need to provide better consultation. You need to provide a better product. You need to provide better service. You need to provide a better customer experience. Above all, you need to be better at simply turning people down. It’s that last part that is probably the most difficult. The notion of the “starving artist” is a real thing and particularly when we are beginning, it is so easy to try to grab any little payday that we can. If someone is willing to pay you $50 and it’s $50 that you didn’t have before, how do you send them away? You can even rationalize it away to some extent. After all, it might just be an hour of work so theoretically you’re making $50/hour, right?

The adversarial nature of negotiations only makes it more difficult. As the service provider, you clearly want to make the most money that you possibly can. The client who has to pay wants to pay the least that they possibly can. So while you are defending your value, it is likely that the client is going to do their best to devalue you and your work. Whether it is attacking your experience (or lack thereof), pointing out problems with your product, dismissing the nature of your job as simply pressing a button, etc. If you get into this business, expect people to diminish your profession to try to work your price down.

On the one hand, every barb that a client levels at me hurts me at my core due to my natural low self-esteem. When these conversations occur, it is no longer an inner monologue beating me up—it is a real person on the other side of the conversation pointing out my weaknesses. It often becomes a spiral where, by extension of the worthlessness of my work, I feel worthless as a human being. This leads me down a very dark emotional path. On the other hand, it angers me to no end when these discussions inevitably occur because I tend to take it all very personally for the reasons I just described. For those that may not suffer from mental health issues in the way that I do, this might all seem the height of irrationality, but depression is not a rational thing. Like I said, it’s an insidious thing that can creep up on you and grip you before you realize what’s happening.

Why am I bringing all of this up and what’s the point? Even though it’s something that I continue to struggle with and something for which I’ve found no infallible solution, I want to let others like me know that they are not alone. Creative industries can be difficult for people who do not suffer from depression or low self-esteem, but for those who do, the nature of the business can lead one down some ugly emotional paths. One thing that I started doing in the morning is looking in the mirror and reminding myself that I have value and that my work has value. When I engage in negotiations, I keep my temper and remind myself that the client is not personally attacking me (usually), but that they have a legitimate concern about how their money is spent and expect me to provide assurances for them in the form of my own defense of my product. Above all, deal with people courteously even when it comes to turning work down. Simply saying that, “Unfortunately, I simply can’t do this at that price.” or “I don’t think that this arrangement is going to make sense for me.” and providing some alternatives in the form of references to cheaper photographers or potential solutions to make their project more reasonably priced is always better than “Go fuck off.”.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the most professional person in the world by a long stretch. I’m crass, I’m prone to severe mood swings, and I prefer to be very informal. I am not the right photographer for every client, but I’m honest about that. I didn’t get into this to be rich (although it would be nice if it ended that way). I got into this because I love photography and I want to help people with my skill set. Regardless of how I may think of myself, I can help people solve their creative problems (within the limits of my own ability) and that extends beyond simply taking on jobs. My value as a creative is to be able to create for you when I can and to lead you to others who can do for you what I cannot. Essentially, my value as a creative is that I actually give a fuck about you (whether you deserve it or not) and that’s more than can be said about a lot of people.

The Road to My First "Studio" Space by Michael Jin

Up until now, I’ve always worked “on-location”. Since the bulk of my work until this point has been real estate photography, it makes perfect sense for this to be the case. As with so many things in life, one thing leads to another, though. As I took on real estate jobs, I was occasionally asked if I could do headshots as well. My response was, “Of course!”. When my father closed down his photo lab, he brought home a pair of SP Studio Systems Excalibur 3200’s and shoot-through umbrellas to accompany them so I just dug those out of the closet and brought them to the office to do some headshots for the agents (Realistically, they were more often half-body portraits because of the variety of ways they needed to be used.). The results of those early shoots was rather mixed. A lot of it was just my inexperience, but some of it also came down to the limitations of the space that I was working in—mainly that I was often thrown into completely random situations and lacked the experience necessary to problem solve at the time.

Jerry Tenenbaum. One of my first paid portrait sessions. (I’m so sorry, Jerry!) ©2016 Michael Jin.

Low-Res File. ©2016 Michael Jin.

Low-Res File. ©2016 Michael Jin.

Often, I was just putting an agent against an available wall and photographing them with my D300 and 18-105mm f/2.5-f/5.6 kit lens. As you can see above, the results were less than ideal. To be honest, I was satisfied for a while with this as I just did not consider headshots to be “my thing”. I just knocked out the background (using the Eraser Tool in Photoshop because that’s the only way I knew how at the time), put in a replacement, and delivered a low resolution file for use as an email signature or something.

I’ll be the first to admit that this was completely unacceptable and my mentality in those early days was completely wrong. Not only did I think far too much of my own abilities, but I also didn’t take nearly enough pride in my work. I was only concerned with paying my bills and thus, treated my photography (which at the time was just a side hustle) as a way to make a few extra bucks.

For a long time, while my real estate photography steadily improved, my headshot photography did not. It’s only after I started to do photography outside of work and pursue it as a hobby that I began to really love the craft. Even though my personal work was almost exclusively various forms of street photography, just the simple fact that I started to take pride in my work caused me to re-examine the photography that I was doing for work. I knew that I could do a lot better if I took the time to study my craft so I picked up some books and started to learn about lighting as well as portraiture. The result was that I began to improve, although there were certainly hits and misses as I was experimenting a lot.

Julia Vinogradov. ©2016 Michael Jin.

Judah Finkelstein. ©2017 Michael Jin.

Andrey Romanyuk. ©2019 Michael Jin.

Jonathan Anobian. ©2019 Michael Jin.

In the past three years, I’ve read books, watched YouTube tutorials, gone through numerous gear changes and upgrades, and I think that the result is that I’m providing much better results for my customers. One thing that has bugged me throughout all of this is the fact that I continue to be at the mercy of whatever space I walk into when taking photos. Suffice it to say that most offices are not exactly designed with photography in mind, so it’s always a struggle to solve problems.

I think that most of us dream of building a studio space at some point and I am no exception. Obviously, I’d love to have a huge room with high ceilings that I can do whatever I want with. Very few of us will ever get to this point, though. Despite the fact that renting out a proper studio would be unrealistically for me at the moment, I have wanted some sort of dedicated space for photography that I could control. For me, the value of it is two-fold.

First, I do not have to turn away potential customers who don’t have their own space where I can set up my lighting to photograph them. If anything, they can always come to me. I am not deluded enough to think that this will alter things so that I never have to travel onto location and solve problems in those given spaces (something that I am much better at now), but it gives me options.

Second, and perhaps more important to me, is that it will give me a space to really be able to practice my photography to bring it to the next level. Until now, I’ve really only “practiced” on the job. I would read about a technique or lighting set-up and then I would have wait until the next person called me because I had nowhere to really set up my lights to practice them on subjects beforehand. I think I’ve come a surprisingly long way working like this, but it is something that does need to change. With a dedicated space, I am free to invite people over and practice without money on the line. This is better for me and better for my customers.

I’ve had something of an “office space” in my home for a few months now since my wife and I moved after having our son. A while back, when I made the decision to transition into becoming a professional photographer, I figured that I couldn’t put off setting aside some space any longer. The only question was how exactly to go about doing this since none of the rooms in our apartment is particularly large with my office space being the smallest room by a decent margin. In the end, I decided that it’s more important for me to have some sort of space rather than the ideal space so while I would love to have a setup that allows for a 10-foot wide backdrop and enough room to back up in order to do full body portraiture, I have settled on a configuration that is pretty much limited to fairly tight headshots for the moment. It’s certainly not ideal, but it will allow me to do some bread-and-butter work as well as practice different lighting techniques.

Can shoot tethered

White and black backdrops are back-ordered.

It turns out that my father still had a Savage Slate Grey backdrop that was in its sealed wrapper in the closet so I grabbed that and ordered an Impact Wall Mount kit. Unfortunately, the white and black backdrops I had in the cart are on back-order (not for too long, I imagine), but in the end, I will have a decent setup to work with. (My original SP Studio Systems Excalibur 3200 monolights are in that red bag.). I think a v-flat or two would be the major things left to add.

I just finished putting everything up yesterday and I have a friend coming over today so that I can take the configuration for a spin. I don’t anticipate any issues, but I can’t tell you how happy i am. It’s not much of a “studio space”, but for me, it’s an incredible step that I’ve taken toward my dreams. Stay tuned for updates and if you’ve been on the fence, I really encourage you to just take the step with whatever you have available. I feel like I waited far too long constantly waiting for the ideal space or setup. With my new outlook, I’m seeing that it’s more important to just start because there’s nothing saying that this is going to be my permanent studio. I can always build from here into a larger space, but if I never start, I will never get anywhere.


Update: Here’s the first portrait to come out of my studio. The model is my buddy and fellow photographer, David Goris.

David Goris. ©2019 Michael Jin.

Rebuilding and Reloading by Michael Jin

As I continue this path toward transitioning my photography into my primary source of income, I’ve finally come to my website. Frankly, my website was never made with any commercial intent. It has always been purely a place for me to express myself and post the occasional thought that I felt the need to get out into the world. There has been some odd comfort in knowing that very few people will ever happen upon it as there is a certain feeling of safety in knowing that whatever deficiencies that I display either in my work or words would be limited to somebody I will never meet located in Thailand or the UK.

I suppose it’s time for that to end somewhat as I really do need to present a more polished face for potential clients. I am still in the middle of trying to decide what exactly this should look like, but I do plan to keep some degree of my personality in here if only because I am not the type of person that can completely shut that off anyway so any potential client will have to be OK with certain parts of my character.

For the time being, the site will remain pretty bare while I try to settle on an appropriate presentation. Again, very few of you will ever read this so I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, but just wanted to put it out there for anyone who comes by and is a bit confused as to the lack of content.

A New Journey Begins. by Michael Jin

The past six months have been a whirlwind of both good and bad. Around six months ago, I made the decision to trade in my Nikon D850 and all of my lenses and accessories to switch to a Sony A7RIII. Since then, I have gotten settled into a new work environment, gone through my son’s first birthday, watched my sister get married, been a witness at my cousin’s marriage at City Hall, found out that my wife is pregnant with our second child, been hospitalized by a herniated disc, came to the conclusion that I dislike using the Sony A7RIII, purchased an Elinchrom ELB 1200 Kit (I would have never envisioned myself purchasing higher end lighting equipment before), made a decision to eat the loss and trade in all of my Sony stuff to return to Nikon, and I have decided to start making an active attempt to grow my photography side job into what I hope can be my primary source of income. Tomorrow, sometime in the morning or early afternoon, I will walk into Adorama, put down my Sony gear to trade in, and walk out with a Nikon Z7, lenses for it (some of which I used to own), and over $10,000 worth of debt that I didn’t have 2 days prior to show for it. That’s credit card debt, not loan debt. For a person who has a natural fear of failure and has struggled with self esteem issues, I have never been so fucking scared ever before in my life.

At the same time, I find myself trembling with this odd sense of excitement. Truth be told, I needed this. I had been paralyzed by indecision for so long, but hearing my wife tell me that she supports me in this decision should I choose to pursue it and then immediately afterward, hearing a sermon about being decisive just stirred something inside of me. I need to do this. Even if the worst comes to pass and I completely fail, for once in my lazy life, I need to discover what I am actually capable of if I seriously try and where my limits truly lie. I’ve dicked around for so long when it comes to photography. I’ve had nice cameras and nice lenses (probably better than many working professionals); I have done jobs here and there always downplaying myself as an amateur or “semi-pro” at best; I have spent the majority of my shutter counts trying to discover my soul in the realm of fine art photography with no intentions whatsoever of displaying my work in a gallery or trying to sell it. I feel as if I have been preparing for this moment forever now. What will all of that preparation mean, though? Will it mean anything at all? Will my work still be able to stand on its own feet in the professional world?

It’s insane because this weekend started out with me fielding several potentially lucrative job offers—both in the compensation and networking potential of the jobs. It shocked me, however, to see how utterly unprepared I was. For fuck’s sake, I did not even have a portfolio to be able to send them simply because I had never previously considered taking on any commercial work like that. All I have is this website filled with my personal stuff, but nothing showing the array of skills that I have developed in different genres. They say that success comes when preparation meets opportunity and when opportunity came knocking, I was utterly unprepared for it. Suffice it to say, I sent them whatever disorganized Google Photos albums that I could in the rush that I was in, but it’ll be a crap shoot as far as whether I land either of these gigs. In preparation, I failed. Will more opportunities come? Who the hell knows? That’s God’s will, but I am not going to be caught unprepared like that again. God willing, those will not be the last chances I get to enter this realm.

So ordering the lighting was Step 1 of this transition. Tomorrow’s Adorama visit will be Step 2. Step 3 will be creating projects for the express purpose of building a marketable portfolio of work. Then there’s the stuff like adjusting this website, getting business cards made, and getting myself out there, all the while continuing to refine my technique so that I hopefully don’t make an ass of myself (although I suppose that’s inevitably going to happen at some point). I don’t know if any of this will work, but despite my immense fear, I feel… joy.

This is My Camera. There are Many Like It, but This One is Mine... And I Hate It. by Michael Jin

Life can be seen as a series of forks in the road, every moment represents some sort of decision to be made. Some are small with little real consequence while others have more significant stakes. For a photographer, one of the biggest decisions to be made is one’s choice of camera. Let me qualify this by pointing out that just about every single modern camera from any major manufacturer is capable of producing outstanding images. I am not going to nitpick about resolution, dynamic range, or many of the other things that people regularly bitch about simply because outside of a few edge cases, they tend to be of little consequence. In my mind, the significance of the choice of camera is two-fold.

First is that since the major manufacturers these days use proprietary mounts (exceptions to the rule being the Micro-4/3 Mount and the newly minted “L-Mount Alliance” of Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma), buying a camera is generally the first step into a much deeper investment into a SYSTEM. This system consists of camera bodies, accompanying native lenses developed for the proprietary mount of those bodies, various accessories often designed for the proprietary connections or software and generally some investment into a consistent workflow in the form of similar menu structures or button placement across various bodies. Yes, adapters exist, but outside of native adapters provided by the manufacturer such as Sony’s A-Mount adapter, Canon’s EF-Mount adapter, or Nikon’s FTZ adapter, you are probably going to take some sort of performance hit if you are adapting lenses onto camera bodies that they are not designed for. So your choice of camera will largely dictate where several hundred or several thousand more dollars will be spent and any switch in systems will likely be accompanied by a significant loss in the form of selling off your system lenses and accessories at a lower price than you likely purchased them for.

The second significant aspect of your camera choice is how it affects your shooting. This might sound really stupid at first, but just about every aspect of a camera body will have some sort of effect on the way you will use in the real world and this will, in turn, affect what you choose to photograph, when you choose to photograph, and how you choose to photograph. For a pretty jarring example, take the difference between a standard SLR camera, a rangefinder, and a TLR camera. The way each of these body types are designed lend themselves to certain types of shooting. You might find yourself gravitating toward candid photography with a rangefinder while avoiding fashion photography. You might find that an SLR draws you more toward portraiture or landscapes and less toward street photography. You might find yourself being drawn to street portraiture with a TLR around your neck while avoiding macro photography. Everyone has their particular inclinations and the nature of the camera body in their hand will naturally skew your shooting away from the weaknesses of that body and toward its strengths. Human beings, being the lazy creatures we are, tend to just go with this flow rather than stubbornly fight it.

Aside from obvious technological differences, however, there are many more subtle considerations that will undoubtedly affect how you use your camera. A smaller camera will be more easily used in discreet situations than a larger one. A camera with comfortable ergonomics will probably be used for longer duration than an uncomfortable one. A lighter camera is probably more likely to be carried around than a heavier one. A camera that is weathersealed is more likely to be taken out on a rainy day than one that isn’t, even if you have a separate weathersealing cover. If a camera has a complicated menu system, you’re probably less likely to change your menu settings as often as on a camera with an intuitive menu system. All of these little technical details and obstacles shape your interaction with this thing that is supposed to be the bridge between your vision and the photograph that you capture. In an ideal world, there would be no such barrier or obstacle, but in light of the fact that there are, it is often easier to adjust ourselves to our tools than it is to adjust the tools to us—particularly if you consider the cost involved in swapping out those tools as mentioned earlier. So the camera, though it is a tool, becomes a critical element in shaping your photography and, over time with much repetition, shaping how you see the world.

You can probably see, then, why choosing the wrong camera body can result in all sorts of headache, frustration, and unhappiness. If you are expecting this post to devolve into some sort of rant about my choice of camera equipment at this point, you earn a gold star for your prescience.

A while back, I was faced with a choice. I had purchased the Nikon D850 (trading in my Nikon D810). I had numerous lenses and accessories in the Nikon DSLR system, including the relatively new NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E, which was an amazing lens. Paired with the D850 which was an amazing camera, I really didn’t feel like I lacked anything except perhaps a few more esoteric lenses to potentially plug up some holes (eg. a macro lens). Looking around me, however, I could clearly see that a major shift in the market was likely going to come—the mass exodus to MILC cameras.

Up until that point, Sony had been the only real player in the full frame MILC market with Canon and Nikon effectively ignoring it until they no longer couldn’t. Rumors swirled around and eventually both companies confirmed that their serious foray into the full frame MILC market was imminent. At this point, the D850 that I had purchased months earlier was still somehow out of stock in the USA and I realized that if it came down to trading in or selling my gear, it was not likely to have more value than at that point due to the continued demand. I decided that the best financial move would be to cease any further investment into DSLR technology (cameras, lenses, accessories) and move my investment into an MILC since I figured that Canon and Nikon themselves would likely ramp down and cease their DSLR development pretty quickly to catch up to Sony. So the choice was made: I would wait to see what Nikon announced first and see whether I would pre-order the Z 7 or purchase a Sony A7RIII. Canon was never a realistic choice for me simply having been with Nikon so long. I could see a jump to Sony, but not Canon and besides, at that point, Sony had the most mature full-frame MILC system in the market.

To get right to the point, the Z 7 announcement (and the Z 6 announcement) was rather underwhelming to me as was the announced lens road map. While it had some good points in ergonomics and weathersealing, the lack of dual slots, reportedly poor AF, and the decision to launch with zero premium lenses quickly made me realize that the body would require at least one iteration and the lens road map would have to progress at LEAST two years before there was a solid system with native lenses there for me. So I made the jump to Sony, which was made easier by a trade-in rebate that they were offering at the time if you traded in a camera from another manufacturer. Adorama gave me a pretty good quote for all of my gear and I was leaving with my new A7RIII and a handful of lenses to get me started in the Sony eco-system.

Truth be told, I had never intended for my stay in the Sony eco-system to be permanent. I figured that since they had the most fully fleshed out MILC system, I would benefit from that while waiting for Nikon to catch up and then re-evaluating in a few years. I knew going into the purchase that there were several issues with Sony cameras in general that would likely irk me. For one, Nikon weathersealing had always been rock solid and I am the type that prefers to walk around with my camera in the rain without an umbrella. Pretty much every test for Sony cameras in that regard has been dismal. Sony cameras are also much more compact than a camera like the D850. This is a feature that some people really enjoy, but I tend to prefer a bigger grip on my cameras even at the cost of extra size and weight. Also, while Sony’s eco-system is the most fully fleshed out, it is currently a bit of a mess due to some early decision that were made to license the Zeiss name for some of their lenses—a practice they have stopped and have pretty much replaced with the G-Master designation. Regardless, this created some odd results such as the “budget” 35mm option inexplicably being an $800 35mm f/2.8 lens and a little bit of initial confusion on my part regarding whether those lenses were being produced by Sony or Zeiss (I have since learned that they are manufactured by Sony) and whether, if they are manufactured by Sony, they are actually Zeiss designs. I will not say that I was unaware of any of this going into my purchase. What I was completely unaware of was simply how much of an impact all of these seemingly small things would have on my photography and how miserable I would end up becoming due to all of it.

On paper, the Sony A7RIII is really not that different from the D850 that I traded in. The 55mm f/1.8 was close enough in focal length and aperture to the 58mm f/1.4G that I traded in. On paper and in theory, there might have been a small adjustment period, but the images that I produce ought to have largely been close to the same, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is the point where Sony apologists will flame me, hurl insults, and tell me all of the simple solutions that I could employ to overcome any of the issues that I have experienced and none of it would be technically wrong. Every single issue could be compensated for. I could purchase a grip so that my pinkie stops hanging off the bottom of my camera. I could buy a rain cover so that my camera would be weatherproof. I could just get used to using the EVF or turning the Live Effect OFF to mimic an OVF. I could do all manner of things and all manner of solutions have run through my mind in the ensuing months. Remember what I said about human laziness and how cameras will, though their own strengths and weaknesses, start to affect your photographic vision over time? At the end of all of the pontificating, the only question I’m left with is, “Yes, I can do all of these things, but why should I?”

Simply put, why should I live in constant frustration with all of these little annoyances? Why should I have to deal with a viewfinder that changes brightness depending on where I’m pointing it even when the Live Effect is OFF? Why should I have to worry about getting my camera wet? Why should I be OK with a control scheme that makes it ridiculously easy to change a setting by spinning a stupid wheel? Why should my hands always feel slightly cramped while holding my camera? Why should I feel like my camera is a delicate novelty rather than a workhorse that I can bludgeon someone with? All of these stupid little preferences and annoyances that are simply my own, but why should I change nearly every habit I had in regard to the interactions between me and my camera? Is this just growing pains? Is there some meaningful benefit to all of this in the end? What am I enduring this joyless, soulless feeling every time I pick up this camera for—a camera that doesn’t allow me to even think straight or clearly when I’m holding it because SOMETHING about it is constantly bothering me? Why did using my camera and taking a photograph suddenly become a stressful experience that I had to think through rather than the natural act that it used to be? Does it get better? Do I care enough to wait for it to get better?

This is not an indictment on Sony’s cameras. I don’t believe them to be inferior to anything on the market today. From a purely technological standpoint, I don’t think that there’s a camera on the market today that will surpass a comparable Sony. Perhaps that day will come, but it’s simply not today and judging from a demo I’ve seen recently of some upcoming firmware that will make their Eye-AF absolutely ridiculous, I would say it might not even be tomorrow. Sony makes amazing cameras, but the more I use mine, the more I am coming to the realization that it’s simply not the right camera for me. Until I made this decision to switch I had not realized how much of my photographic vision and habits were tied to my Nikon cameras—their ergonomics, lenses, weathersealing, weight, menu design, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever been as unproductive in my photography as I have with my Sony. It seems as if everything just feels wrong and I simply can’t get into the zone that I’m usually able to get into and it doesn’t seem to be the fault of any particular Sony feature, but simply the camera system in aggregate. Whereas before I was more than happy to lug around my heavy D850 with grip and cadre of lenses everywhere I went, I find myself leaving my Sony A7RIII at home unless I know for a fact that I have a job to shoot. When your $3000+ camera doesn’t fill your heart with some degree of joy in using it, it really becomes time for a re-evaluation of things.

I am not entirely sure where I go from here as I still don’t believe investing into a DSLR at this point to be a wise use of my money, but one thing is for sure. This has been an extremely expensive and emotionally frustrating lesson to me that while photography is ultimately not about the tools, the tools that you use can have a great deal of influence on the joy of the process—and, in turn, the comfort with which you can exercise your creativity and vision. It has also been an important reminder that the value of a camera lies way beyond a sheet that lists technical specifications or features. Like I said, just about every camera can produce the images you need. That doesn’t, however, mean that every camera is good for everyone.

I Have A Dream... (So Do I.) by Michael Jin

"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination; one hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity; one hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land.

So we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy; now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content, will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the worn threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy, which has engulfed the Negro community, must not lead us to a distrust of all white people. For many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of Civil Rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality; we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one; we can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”; we cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro in Mississippi cannot vote, and the Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No! no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations.  Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi. Go back to Alabama. Go back to South Carolina. Go back to Georgia. Go back to Louisiana. Go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.  Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I HAVE A DREAM TODAY!

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama — with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I HAVE A DREAM TODAY!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.  With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.  And this will be the day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York; let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania; let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado; let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia; let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee; let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I had this idea for the company that I do some social media for. It was a play on something I saw on Twitter a while back where NPR decided to tweet the Declaration of Independence sentence by sentence to some rather interesting results. To honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I decided to post his “I Have A Dream” speech on Instagram—not sentence by sentence, but paragraph by paragraph. Each post was one paragraph of the speech accompanied by an image with no quotation marks or references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. except for an image of him at the rally as the first post of the series.

Shortly after the third post of the campaign, I was called and told to immediately remove the post because it used the word “negro” and the owners felt that it reflected poorly on the company—apparently they were getting text messages from their friends. I explained that it was part of the speech and that it would not make sense to take down that single post and keep the rest. In a sense, it was an all-or-nothing situation. After a short phone call, I was told to pull the plug on the whole thing and put up a generic image because the company did not want to be seen as taking a political stance. So all of the posts were deleted, the scheduled future posts were canceled, and up went a generic image of the rally in Washington D.C. and a generic apolitical message.

I am currently incredibly depressed and, quite frankly, heartbroken by this series of events. Fortunately, I have this platform from which to post my views to a non-existent audience, but at least I’ll be able to get this off my chest. Truth be told, I knew exactly what I was doing when I designed this campaign because I saw the results of the NPR campaign. I deliberately did not put any quotations around the individual paragraphs posted and I deliberately chose not to put the “- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” at the end of each of those paragraphs which would have made it incredibly obvious to any reader that these were words quoted from his speech. I knew full well that some people would immediately get it (especially since it’s written in a manner that few people today would write on social media) while others would simply have their gut reactions to it. THAT WAS THE POINT. The entire purpose of this exercise was to get us to read those words without the bias that comes from context. The reason that the posts were spaced out one hour apart was to give plenty of time to allow people to digest the individual segments of the speech. It was MEANT to challenge us.

Challenge us, it apparently did. So much so that I was forced to pull the plug on it a mere three paragraphs into the campaign. Ask anyone but the most blatant racist about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and you’ll hear nothing but reverence and praise. People will blather on and on about his contributions to the advancement of civil rights and they would be right to. What does it say about us, however, when those same people shy away from the very words that were at the basis of those incredible contributions? What does it say about us that we read them and then complain that they are “too political” to be posted by a company in 2019? It was August 28, 1963 when the speech quoted above was given. Take that in for a moment. 1963. It has been 20,235 days since the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “I HAVE A DREAM TODAY” to the day that I am writing this blog post. 20,235 days and quoted paragraphs from that speech are “too political” and “too inflammatory” for mainstream consumption.

Did I miss some point in my lifetime when the notion of racial equality and love toward our fellow man became a political topic? Did I miss the memo that suggested that fair treatment of our brothers and sisters of all colors is an inflammatory idea? I thought that these were given things that decent human beings with some sense of moral values simply agreed upon. I’m not talking Affirmative Action, Welfare, or whatever other social policies inevitably get rolled up into these arguments. “The Dream” was not a dream about public policy or government programs. It was a dream about the human heart. If we truly loved each other and saw each others as brothers and sisters with equal value and equal rights, we wouldn’t have to bicker about policies because we would already know what must be done for the sake of our own conscience. I won’t discount the tremendous progress that has been made since 1963, but today served as proof for me that Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream” in 2019 still remains a dream deferred.

So in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I will say today on January 21, 2019 that I HAVE A DREAM TODAY. I have a dream that one day we can talk about Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream frankly and openly without fear of some sort of ludicrous backlash. I dream of the day when we can be brave enough to simply speak the truths that we hold to be self-evident rather than to cower behind the facade of “political neutrality”. And cowardice it is, because the issue of human welfare is not a question of politics, but one of our humanity itself.

My 2018 EMULSIVE Secret Santa Experience by Michael Jin

© 2019 Michael Jin. Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/2 with Sony A7RIII

For those that don’t know, the EMULSIVE Secret Santa is an annual event within the film photography community organized by EM of emulsive.org. The idea is that a bunch of participants all around the world sign up and get paired with a partner to send a gift to so that we can all open our gifts together on Christmas day. Like many of these types of events, the person that you’re sending to is usually not the person who is gifting to you (except in a few rare scenarios) so it’s all a big surprise in the end. When you sign up, you can either choose to ensure that you’re shipping domestically or say that you’re open to ship internationally. Despite the fact that the EMULSIVE Secret Santa is pretty much talked about on every film photography podcast that I listen to, 2018 was the first year that I decided to actually participate.

The thing is that I’m not really a “holiday” type of person. I don’t find any particular joy in the whole tradition of gift exchange and I pretty much want to claw my ears out whenever I start to hear Christmas music all day everywhere I go. I’ve never participated in a Secret Santa simply because I’m a grumpy grinch. I’ve always been of the opinion that we’re all better off just keeping our own money in our pockets and buying the things that we actually want rather than getting sweaters or socks that we’ll never wear and pretending to be happy about it. I guess I’m just not really sentimental in that regard. This year was a bit different, though. I’ve been making an active effort to try to open myself up and be a more social person in general. I figured that the EMULSIVE Secret Santa would be a good way to connect (even if just in a limited fashion) with another person. So I went on to Elfster, which was the site that the event was using to organize, registered as a participant, and waited to be paired.

It took a while, but I finally got my pairing and it happened to be someone in Georgia. Now while the minimum gift value is $20 and all registrants get to create a wish list, we are encouraged to find out a little bit about the person receiving the gift via an anonymous Q&A mechanism built into the Elfster platform. While some people simply ignore this and send whatever rolls of film or camera that they have pre-determined regardless of which recipient they get paired with, EM emphasizes that the idea is to strengthen the community and encourages us to tailor our gifts by using these Q&A exchanges. Figuring that since I’ve gone out of my way to participate, I decide to flow with the spirit of the event and proceed to send a bunch of anonymous questions to my recipient. Then I hear nothing back.

Now I’m left with a choice. Do I just send whatever since my recipient is not responding, or do I wait it out a bit longer to see if he eventually responds? The days keep passing and the Christmas Day deadline looms ever nearer as I keep logging into Elfster to see if there has been any update. I’m seeing all of these notifications in the activity board where people are thanking their Santas for their gifts—some of them cheat by opening the gift early—and there I am feeling like a dipshit for not having sent my gift out yet. Finally, just as I’m about to break, I get a response from my recipient who says that he simply hadn’t been checking his Elfster account. We have a brief back and forth and I get an idea for some film stocks that I think he’d like. I put the order into B&H and I end up shipping it via UPS 3-Day to ensure that it arrives on time since it was all so last minute. Thankfully, I get confirmation through Elfster that my gift was received and I breathe a sigh of relief. Then it hits me. Nobody ever sent me any questions to answer.

So I know I’ve done my part, but now I’m wondering what going on with the other end of this exchange as it pertains to me. Is my Santa one of the people who just have something that they already have in mind to send? Is something on the way? It doesn’t seem like it since Elfster does have a button to press once you send your package to let your recipient to know that something has been shipped (and a separate button for the recipient to press to confirm receipt). I check and there’s nothing to indicate that anything has been shipped and my Santa has been completely silent. My next thought immediately goes to, “Is my Santa one of those dead beats that I hear about who just enters to receive something and never sends anything out on their end?” A system like this is ripe for abuse, after all. It would seem a pretty dick move, but as Christmas gets closer and closer, it looks increasingly common.

Finally I check my Elfster account one day and there’s a message for me.

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OK. I can understand that shit happens and I know how stressful finals can be. What’s more important? Personal circumstances or a gift exchange? Of course I tell him to take care of whatever he needs to take care of. Clearly, I’m going to be getting SOMETHING even if it’s not on time. All he has to do is drop it in the mail at some point. Right?

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RADIO SILENCE…

This is a screenshot that I took today as I write this post on January 19, 2019. It’s been nearly a month since Christmas. There’s been no further communication, no confirmation of a package sent, and no package received. Because of this, I’m going to go ahead and put my grumpy hat back on. You see, even if it was part of an exchange, this would have literally been the only gift that I received this past Christmas. I know that I am not the only person to experience this as it is a known problem and it seems like EM and his assistants are working in the background on their contingency for these scenarios, but frankly speaking, they shouldn’t have to have a contingency because people should be decent enough to either abide by their word or withdraw if circumstances prevent them from fulfilling their end of the agreement.

Some people have posted about how their joy has simply been knowing that the person that they gifted to enjoyed their present and I certainly feel the joy that my own gift was well received by the person to whom I was assigned. I suppose I feel rather ambivalent in that I also feel betrayed and angry at myself for allowing to feel this way because I allowed myself to have enough faith in a stranger whom I knew nothing about to get my hopes up. I think I would have almost preferred complete radio silence altogether than that single message that made hope briefly blip on my otherwise jaded and cynical radar.

Whatever the final resolution to this will be, I have already decided that I am not going to participate in this event again. I commend EM for doing his utmost to rally the film photography community around this event and doing his best to organize it—even going so far as to have contingency plans in place for situations like mine. That having been said, my experience will be that in an event that was specifically designed to strengthen the bonds in this community, someone entered to take advantage of it and I simply don’t want to lose what little faith in people that I have left.

Good luck, EM. Thanks for trying.

© 2016 Michael Jin. NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D with Nikon D810.

Micro-Contrast and Other Nonsense by Michael Jin

Even though I don’t exactly have money pouring out of my orifices, I’m always on the lookout for new (and sometimes old?) and interesting camera equipment. One of a biggest benefits of switching from a DSLR system to an MILC system has been the fact that I can find an adapter to fit just about any DSLR or SLR lens ever made onto my Sony A7RIII. Sure, I had by Helios 44M, Helios 40-2, and a few Jupiter lenses back on my D850, but it was much harder to find lenses to fit that camera since they had to be specifically modified to achieve infinity focus and even when you got one that was, manually focusing on a modern DSLR was just not a very fun thing to do.

Because of this, I’ve found a whole world of vintage lenses that has opened up to me since getting my new camera and this is nice because a lot of older lenses tend to be cheaper than the new stuff. How does one go about sorting out good lenses from bad ones, though? As I’ve said, I don’t have tons of money so I’m constantly reading lens reviews so try to get an idea of their characteristics and performance… and so begins my rant.

© 2019 Michael Jin. Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/2 (M42 Mount) on Sony A7RIII.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. As I read these reviews for lenses, I really start to get that feeling. Going through essay after essay of people driveling on and on in their efforts to describe the visual characteristics of these lenses quickly begins to feel like listening to Food Network hosts describing whatever garbage that they’re munching on for the camera. I’m not sure where the language originated from (and I admittedly don’t care enough to go looking), but you start to see the same fucking words over and over again applied to EVERY SINGLE LENS. If you’re at all interested in photography, you’ve probably seen them, too. How many lenses have “CREAMY BOKEH", “BUTTERY SMOOTH BOKEH”, or some variation of this? How many lenses “DRAW WELL” or “RENDER IMAGES WELL”? And, for fuck’s sake, how many lenses have “GREAT MICRO-CONTRAST”?

WHAT THE FUCK IS MICRO-CONTRAST?

© 2017 Michael Jin. NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G on Nikon D810.

More importantly, however

WHY THE HELL SHOULD I CARE?

Unlike most things in life, I’ve actually taken the time to try to look up what the hell “micro=contrast” is simply due to the ubiquity of the term’s use in discussions of lenses and the fact that people constantly talk about it like it’s the most important thing in the world. As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be any universally accepted definition of what this term means nor have I found an unequivocal method of testing for it. It seems more like bullshit jargon made up by people and thrown around in discussions to sound smarter than other people or simply as a catch-all term used to quantify all of the shit that people can’t actually describe with other words.

On the one hand, I get it. If you put me on the spot and asked me to describe how any given lens renders, I would have an incredibly difficult time explaining it to you. If you asked me to start comparing lenses to each other, this would only get more difficult. For you, the reader, this might be disappointing if I was positioning myself as some sort of expert in these matters so I need to find SOME way to describe what’s going on even if I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think “micro-contrast” is pretty much the photographic version of “umami”. You can’t point out exactly what the hell it is, but you “know it” when you encounter it. It also happens to be the universal fallback for any argument that involves justifying the price of a really really expensive lens when every quantifiable metric favors the cheaper lens.

© 2019 Michael Jin. Mir-1 37mm f/2.8 Lens (M42 Mount) on Sony A7RIII.

Whether it’s Bokeh, Micro-Contrast, Peceptual Megapixels (an even more egregiously coined term), or whatever else, I find that I’m really tired of reading about this crap. Here’s an idea: WHY NOT JUST SHOW ME? Considering that all of these reviewers actually have their hands on the lenses that they are reviewing, it’s pretty amazing how much crap some of them can write while not showing a damned photo other than some test charts or the occasional plan gray shot to show the vignette at different apertures. Does anyone seriously care about this shit? If you show me some nice photos taken with a lens, I’m not going to ask you what the MTF chart looks like or how many “perceptual megapixels” the lens resolves.

Sure, tell me what the lens feels like. Describe how well the focus ring is dampened or whether the lens suffers from focus breathing. These are all things that are an essential part of the use of a lens that you can’t convey through an image. But by God, why the hell would you bother trying to describe the visual rendition that a lens creates when you can just take some damned pictures and post them?

© 2017 Michael Jin. Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 on Nikon D810.

Anyway, I just felt like letting loose after a round of reading through some vintage lens reviews. If you’re a reviewer and you happen to be struggling with how to describe a lens. Do us all a favor and just go out and take a fucking picture.

© 2017 Michael Jin. Helios 44M 58mm f/2 on Nikon D810.

Oh, and the latest lens that I’ve been eyeing? It’s the Jupiter-9.