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Cosy moment with the Apple MacBook Pro 15" Retina, LaCie 4TB hard drive and the Leiac M-D 262 digital rangefinder. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.

   
 
   

The Story Behind That Picture: "Advice for Photographers:
Which computer do I need for photography?"

By: Thorsten Overgaard. July 28, 2016. Updated March 29, 2017.

 

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Having the right computer for digital photography is one way to lessen the time you spend by the computer. There are a few things to know that will make you work 4X faster for $100 extra and more.

 

     
 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which computer do I need for photography?

Here are recommendations for your next computer, before or after a Thorsten Overgaard Workshop: Apple computers are far the best for photography workflow. Even if you work with a PC for work, consider an Apple for your photography.

Generally, I recommend getting the fastest MacBook Pro available, and with the 15" Retina screen. And change it every 18-36 months to stay in the loop with the fastest technology (things change so fast that a 3 year old computer tends to be really slow). 

Cosy moment with the Apple MacBook Pro 15" Retina, LaCie 4TB hard drive and the Leiac M-D 262 digital rangefinder. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.  

 

Speed comparison of MacBook Pro using Lightroom:

Which is fastest for Lightroom? This is how big a difference there is working with Lightroom 6.x. This test was performed with 346 DNG files from 24MP camera (= size 20-30 MB each):

    MacBook Air 11
(Mid 2013)

1.7 Ghz i7
processor
512 GB
hard drive
Intel 1.5 GB
1 Thunderbolt
2 USB
$1,700 in 2013

  MacBook Pro 15"
(Late 2013)

2.6 Ghz i7
Quad processor
1 TB
hard drive
NVIDIA
750M 2 GB
2 Thunderbolt
2 USB 3
SD-card reader
$3,300 in 2013
 

MacBook Pro 15"
(Mid 2015)

2.8 Ghz i7
Quad processor
1 TB
hard drive
AMD 2GB
2 Thunderbolt
2 USB 3
SD-card reader
$3,100 in 2016
B&H Photo / Amazon

  MacBook Pro 13"
(Late 2016)

2.9 Ghz i5
Duo processor
512GB
hard drive
8GB RAM
Iris Graphics 550
4 x USB-C/
Tunderbolt 3
$1,899 in 2017
B&H Photo
  MacBook Pro 13"
(Late 2016)

3.3 Ghz i7
Duo processor
1 TB
hard drive
16GB RAM
Iris Graphics 550 2GB
4 x USB-C/
Tunderbolt 3
$2,899 in 2017
B&H Photo
  MacBook Pro 15"
(Late 2016)

2.9 Ghz i7
Quad processor
2 TB
hard drive
16GB RAM
AMD Radeon Pro 460 GPU 4GB
4 x USB-C/
Tunderbolt 3
$4,299 in 2017
B&H Photo
Import into Lightroom 6
of 346 DNG files from SD-card
  11:31 min
(External
USB reader)
  2:14 min
(built-in SD reader)
  1:54 min
(built-in SD reader)
  9:54 min
(USB to USB-C dongle)
  7:53 min
(USB to USB-C dongle)
  2:11 min
(External
USB-C  reader)
Making 1:1 previews
of 346 DNG files
  26:34 min   21:32 min   11:48 min   17:43 min   17:08 min   13:40 min
Export of files **
(346 web-sized JPG's)
  24:16 Min   4:44 Min   3:12 Min   7:33 Min   7:30 min   3:45 min
Total waiting time
for import, preview and export of 346 pictures **
  62:21 Min   28:30 Min   16:54 Min   35:10 Min   32:31 Min   19:36 Min
SSD hard drive/Flash Memory
read/write/copy speed *
  200MB/sec   800MB/sec   2000MB/sec   1900MB/sec   1950MB/sec   1950MB/sec
Delay in showing a full-size preview in Develop Mode *
  3-5 Sec   0.3 Sec   0.1 Sec   2.0 Sec   2.0 Sec   1,2 Sec
* = When you edit in Lightroom on a computer, the computer depend on the hard drive and not the processor/RAM to show previews immediately.
** = Export of files in other sizes than original uses the processor to resize the files.

 

Big screen

If you want to work on a large screen at home, I recommend getting one or two external screens that connects to your MacBook Pro, rather than having a "large computer" at home and a "small computer" for travel. It's much easier to have just one computer and not having to sync two computers; and you can invest the money in one really fast computer.

 

Workspace with two 30" Apple Cinema screens run by a MacBook Pro. © 2014-2016 Thorsten Overgaard.
Workspace with two 30" Apple Cinema screens run by a MacBook Pro. © 2014-2016 Thorsten Overgaard.

 

Always buy the fastest model available

No matter which MacBook model you buy, upgrade the processor to the fastest possible model, and upgrade the hard drive to the largest available.

In the MacBook Air series, they usually come with an i5 processor, but upgrading to the i7 will increase the speed for photography workflow 4X and only cost $100.

The MacBook 12" is cute, has a great screen, but is also the slowest model for photography workflow. My mother has one and loves it, but she's 70 years old and only uses it for e-mail and online banking.

If you visit an Apple store and compare the 13" MacBook Air with the 15" MacBook Pro, you will realize that there's not much difference in size. So why not get the computer with the largest screen and most speed?

Even I travel 49 of the years 52 weeks, I've choosen the MacBook Pro 15" every time, and I've picked the fastest model available every time. I travel with my computer, but I never really carry it around. I park it in a hotel or apartment, and when I travel to the next place I put it in my bag until I arrive in the next hotel. Only if you always (or often) carry your computer around town with you does it makes sense to get a smaller model.

Currently, the new MacBook Pro 15" (Late 2016) with 2.9 Ghz and 2TB hard drive may be the choice for slick design, better screen and the 2TB hard drive. But in terms of speed, the previous 2015 model is actually 14% faster for Lightroom.

With it the new MacBook Pro (late 2016 model) comes the pain of new Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connections and no SD-card reader built-in. An upgraded MacBook Pro 15" are expected to be announced in October 2017 with faster specifications (but still with four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connections).

LaCie 5TB harddrive Thunderbolt 3   LaCie 4Tb harddrive USB3 with USB-C dongle
LaCie 5TB harddrive Thunderbolt 3   LaCie 4Tb harddrive USB3 with USB-C dongle

 

Design

The new MacBook Pro (late 2016) does have a slick design. After having looked at Joy using a less-than-impressive in terms of speed 13"' for some weeks, I started looking at my 2015 macbook as a clunky device. The fingerprint opening of the new MacBook is a nice feature together with other things that makes the 2016 model a pleasure to use.

The four similar connections is a freedom, once you get harddrives, SD-card readers, SD-card readers and all that connects to the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports. And unlike the iPhone, it still has a mini jack for headphones!

 

No more SD-card reader in the (Late 2016 MacBook) computer

  StarTech USB-C cardreader for SD-cards
  StarTech SD-card reader is $30 at BH PHoto
   

Apple doesn't even make or sell (in the Apple Store) a SD card reader, so you have to visit BH Photo, Amazon or eBay to find a third party SD card reader that goes into the USB-C plug, or a traditional SD card reader with USB and use a USB-C to USB3 dongle.

Using a USB 3 card reader via a dongle is extremely slow. There are more and more USB-C readers available. The one I got is the StarTech ($30).

 

 

 

USB-C is not the same as Thunderbolt 3

The plug for USB-C is the same as for Thunderbolt 3. The confusion on this is so great that the staff in the Apple Store doesn't always know. They will claim it is the same speed. It's not. Thunderbolt 3 is four times faster than USB-C, and that is important when buying a new hard drive: LaCie makes hard drives with USB-C (USB 3.1) connections and Thunderbolt 3 connections for this reason, but many portable drives have just USB-C connection. USB-C speed is rated as 10GB/sec and Thunderbolt 3 is rated as 40GB/sec. This is so little known, most will claim USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is the same connection and speed (though it was specified in the 40 page document following the release of the MacBook Late 2016).

Thunderbolt 3 hard drives
Hard drives with USB-C are not the same as Thunderbolt 3. The LaCie 5TB mobile Rugged drive for Thunderbolt 3 is the first real Thunderbolt 3 hard drive.

 

Look at performance, don't listen to the hype

When the new MacBook Pro was announced, it was announced as "Metal on all four sides" and "17% thinner than the previous model" and so on. That's how they sold us Thunderbolt some years ago and that's how the MacBook 12" may sound great (even it is the worst for picture editing).

It's difficult to not get enthusiastic about the new, but make speed comparisons before you go get it all.

 

Which external hard drives do I need for photography?

You need external hard drives for storage, and you need two so one is your storage, the other is your backup of that. In other words, you always buy two, four, six or eight hard drives at a time.

Portable hard drives have a live span of 12-18 months before you want to replace them with a bigger one. You think they will last forever, but your need for storage grows faster than you think. The good news is that price of hard drive space drops with the same speed as your need more space.

 

This is how big (or little) a difference there is between USB and Thunderbolt:

    USB 3
portable
hard drive

2 TB from
BH Photo / Amazon
4 TB from
BH Photo / Amazon

 

Thunderbolt
portable
hard drive

4 TB from
BH Photo
/ Amazon

  USB-C
portable
hard drive
  Thunderbolt 3
portable
hard drive
Read/write/copy speed *
  75 MB/sec   80 MB/sec
6% faster
       
Read/write/copy speed with MacBook USB-C (Late 2016) via dongle to USB 3
  75 MB/sec   80 MB/sec
6% faster
       
Read/write/copy speed with MacBook USB-C (Late 2016)
          Specs coming   Specs coming
* = Specifications of USB 3.1 says they can do 1,250MB/sec and specifications of Thunderbolt 2 says 2,500MB/sec. That's in theory. If you test them on your machine with a free program like Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, you will see the actual value ((which of course depends as well on your machine's hard drive (5400 RMP or 7200 ROM or SSD). Specifications for FireWire 400 said 100-400MB/sec and FireWire 800 said 800MB/sec.

 

As you can see, the extra price of Thunderbolt external hard drives (usually $100-$200 per hard drive) isn't warranted by the 6% faster speed compared to USB 3. Thunderbolt 3 is greatly improved speed compared to USB-C.

With new MacBook Pro 15" (Late 2016 model) that has only four Thunderbolt 3 conncetions (which are the same as USB-C that the MacBook 12" introduced), you don't really have a choice. You can use converters for a while, but all future things you buy should be directed towards Thunderbolt 3 (when Thunderbolt came out, you could get FireWire to Thunderbolt converters, and they work; but you want clean cables without having to use converters).

 

My portable hard drives are currently 4TB LaCie Rugged (USB3) and 2TB Western Digital (USB3).
My portable hard drives are currently 4TB LaCie Rugged (USB3) and 2TB Western Digital (USB3) and 5TB Thunderbolt 3 (same connector as USB-C).

 

Remember, you will buy a new one anyways in 12-18 months. Go with USB 3if you can, and don't spend much time reconsidering this decision until portable SSD hard drives come down into a reasonable price range. (There will be coming a new type of SSD hard drives that you can expand unlimited - e-mail me for more info on this so you get a notice when they are available). 

Make sure to avoid portable hard drives that require external power supply! Not much compactness in having a small drive that needs a power supply. A portable hard drive should be powered by the USB or Thunderbolt cable. 

I use Western Digital 2TB portable hard drives (BH Photo / Amazon) and LaCie 4TB USB3 hard drives (BH Photo / Amazon).

 

 

Desktop hard drives are a little different in that they last for 3-5 years. Then you want to upgrade them to larger ones because you need more space and the connections becomes obsolete. FireWire 400 (invented 1995) and FireWire 800 (introduced 2009) have died out. Again, time works for you, the price of a top-of-the-line 120 GB hard drive in 2000 was $400 back then, and a 6,000 GB hard drive today costs $400 as well. 

 

This is how big (or small) a difference there is between FireWire 800 and USB3:

    FireWire 800
hard drive

 

USB 3
hard drive

Read/write/copy speed *
  71 MB/sec   75 MB/sec

 

The lesson on FireWire, USB, Thunderbolt and the new Apple USB-C Port is that it's the size of the connections that change dramatically, not so much the speed. But the hype with each new type makes you buy new equipment, and that's the main feature.

 

Some of my external hard drives. FireWire/Thunderbolt in the background, USB backup drives on the front, and USB3 portable hard drives for travel.
Some of my external hard drives. FireWire/Thunderbolt in the background, USB backup drives on the front, and USB3 portable hard drives for travel.

 

USB desktop hard drives vs
Thunderbolt desktop hard drives

You can set up several USB 3 external hard drives via an $18 USB 3.1 Hub so they are all connected at the same time. As the Hub provides power as well, you can actually go with portable drives instead of the Desktop hard drives (that all requires a separate power supply). If you don't depend on speed but use the connected hard drives for archiving (and photo editing, video editing, etc. on the much faster internal SSD/Flash Memory), this is actually worth considering. The USB hub also can charge iPhones and stuff.  

Thunderbolt hard drives can be connected in "daiseychain" which means you have one cable going out of the Mac to the first hard drive, then a Thunderbolt from that to the next and from that to the next. They are all connected this way, although it requires that the desktop hard drive needs two Thunderbolt connections (one in and one out).  

One of the problems with Thunderbolt is that the cables go black for no reason. They simply stop working. Some times, after some weeks of rest they may work normally again. If you have a rather complicated setup of drives it's annoying to locate the faulty cable and replace it. Others have reported that Thunderbolt cables caused errors that wiped their hard drives. All in all, it's an easy technology but not a very stable one. We all got into it because "Thunderbolt" sounds so cool, and it's the future (and who doesn't want to be in that?). 

  Sanho 5-in-1 hub for MacBook USB-C is necessary in order to plug in more than one thing. It's a mess..!
  Sanho 5-in-1 hub for MacBook USB-C is necessary in order to plug in more than one thing. It's a mess..!
   

Next thing will be USB-C which was introduced on the MacBook 12" in 2015 and that's also what is on the new redesigned MacBook Pro (Late 2016), wich they call Thunderbolt 3 on that one. (It has 4 Thunderbolt 3 connections and nothing else).

Thunderbolt 3 read/write 4X faster than USB-C even they plugs look the same. If you connect a USB hard drive via the USB>USB-C dongle, the speed will obviously be that of the slowest cable.

In the MacBook 12" it's very unpractical as it is the one and only connection for power, hard drives, scanners, phones and all. "Be careful what you wish for", as the Apple CEO said about that feature.

I have Thunderbolt desktop hard drives and USB 3 backup hard drives. The most recent desktop hard drives I've bought have been the LaCie 6TB Thunderbolt model and the most recent backup hard drives I bought was four 5TB hard drives with USB.

 

Do what seems most practical. As long as you have backup of your hard drives, the problems will never be bigger than what you can overcome. I very much buy hard drives the same way I buy Xerox paper:  the price per pack for 500 sheets of Xerox paper, and the price for a 1TB hard drive. I simply make a piece of paper where I list and compare the current models: Speed, Connections, price per TB). If I had smaller storage needs, I would use portable hard drives only. Nice, easy and compact. 

As I don't expect any of my desktop hard drives to be with me for more than 3-5 years, I don't invest in one large system or one large 30TB hard drive. I buy a hard drive that will keep me going for a while; and in 6-9 months when I need more space, I compare and get the next one.

 

Price comparison of hard drives (July 2016):

    USB 3:

  Thunderbolt:   Thunderbolt 3:
LaCie 5TB Rugged
portable HD
          $65 per 1 TB
BH Photo
WD 2TB portable HD
  $42 per 1 TB
BH Photo / Amazon
       
LaCie 4 TB Rugged
portable HD
  $55 per 1 TB
BH Photo / Amazon
  $95 per 1 TB
BH Photo / Amazon
  $87 per 1 TB
BH Photo
SanDisk 960GB
Portable SSD

  $479 per 1 TB
BH Photo / Amazon
       
LaCie 6 TB Desktop HD
      $70 per 1 TB
BH Photo / Amazon
   
LaCie 10 TB Desktop HD
          $60 per 1 TB
BH Photo
LaCie 20 TB Desktop HD
  $75 per 1 TB
Amazon
  $100 per 1 TB
BH Photo / Amazon
   

 

 
     

 

 
 

 

 

           
 

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Also read

Also read my article, "Advice for Photographers: How to calibrate your computer screen"

 

Your computer is not an archive

One of the things I teach in my workshops and in my Lightroom Survival Kit (which is a guide on how to set up an overall workflow for photography), is that your photographs and raw files are not to reside on the computer.

Your computer is a tool to import, edit and finalize photographs. After you are finished with them, they have to go onto an external archive and your computer should be empty.

You cannot work on a comptuer that is cluttered with files. Your comptuer is not an archive, it's a tool.

 

Your computer is a tool and a resource

Your computer should be set up to work for you. The faster it is, the simpler it works, and the more you can have it do for you, the better.

The amount of automated processes a computer can do for you that it would take you days to do is amazing.

But on the other hand, the amount of time you can waste on getting a computer to work is just as amazing.

So keep your eyes on how to get the computer to do work for you. It's a tool.

 

 
     
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Finally, the ideal computer

Once in a while, you plan to buy the ideal computer and all. It's a great idea, and with it you often have the feeling that now you are on top of it all. It's perfect. But what you have to think into the plan is that your ideal computer will need updating and replacement very soon to stay the ideal setup.

So rather than investing in the perfect everything right now, think in a workable workflow that will continue to be ideal with the updates, replacements and all.

The question is not, "How much will I have to invest in the ideal computer setup?" but rather, "How much will it cost me a year to maintain this perfect setup?"

Because that's what you do when you plan a computer and a workflow. You plan a continious workflow that require that you update most of the elements every one or two years to stay on top of the game. For me it's MacBook Pro and it cost me about $1,000 a year to buy a new one every 12-18 months and sell the old one. If I added a Mac Pro for "home use", I would have to look at the writeoff a year to maintain that power. I can't just buy one and expect it to keep me working super-fast forever.

 

A good computer

My take on computers is very easy to remember: Get the most effective one and keep replacing it with the new model whenever the new model is a considerable jump up in speed. But don't buy the marketing hype, look at actual speed performance.

When Apple moved onto the unibody MacBook Pro, there was a period of two years where the previous model (with silver keyboard) was in fact faster for video and stills editing.

They usually gets bigger and faster for each release, but some times the improvement is very small and not worth the trouble of replacement. Apple for example released a 15" MacBook Pro in 2014 that didn't improve the speed or harddrive space. Their 2013 model improved compared to the previous model: The internal speed from 400 MB/sec to 800 MB/sec and the harddrive went from 512 GB to 1TB. Their 2015 model improved the internal speed greatly from 800 MB/sec to 2000 MB/sec.

I figure it cost me about $500 - $1,000 a year in write-off replacing my previous MacBook Pro with the new one. So even the machine is usually around $3,300, that is not what it costs me every 12-18 months to keep the fastest one.

Apple iMac comes with a nice big screen, but stacking it with SSD hard drives is more expensive than stacking a MacBook Pro with similar space. I recommend getting a MacBook Pro and eventual one or two external screens.

The 12" MacBook in gold is slick and looks good but is the slowest MacBook available. It's basically an iPad with keyboard.

The Mac Pro was designed to be a powerhouse but the release was so delayed that time caught up with it. It can be useful for scientific work and other work where you demand a lot of power. But the new iMac is in fact faster than the Mac Pro, unless you trick the Mac Pro out with all the power you can get. It's not really a computer for home use.

I stumbled into a Mac Pro that was optimized dramatically:

 

Now, this is a workflow computer! I stumbled over this made-to-travel Mac Pro computer integrated into a flight box with eight 1TB SSD-drives and import slots for camera memory cards in the top). It serves as import, storage, distribution, printing as well as server for five on-the-road editing workstations with each one 27" screen. It's meant as one computer that serves five traveling photographers at one time. The MacPro itself has 1TB SSD built-in and lots of RAM, as well as an external back-up drive attached (the usb-cable going out of the unit).
Now, this is a workflow computer! I stumbled over this made-to-travel Mac Pro computer integrated into a flight box with eight 1TB SSD-drives and import slots for camera memory cards in the top). It serves as import, storage, distribution, printing as well as server for five on-the-road editing workstations with each one 27" screen. It's meant as one computer that serves five traveling photographers at one time. The MacPro itself has 1TB SSD built-in and lots of RAM, as well as an external back-up drive attached (the usb-cable going out of the unit).

 

Photography team on the road: The five workstations run by one portable Mac Pro that is special built and tricked out with all sorts of extra power.
Photography team on the road: The five workstations run by one portable Mac Pro that is special built and tricked out with all sorts of extra power.

 

I hope you enjoyed today's article. As always, feel free to mail me at thorsten@overgaard.dk for suggestions, ideas and corrections.

 

 

 


Thorsten Overgaard

   
   

 

leica.overgaard.dk
Thorsten Overgaard's Leica Article Index
Leica M cameras:   Leica S:
Leica M10   Leica S1 digital scan camera
Leica M Type 240 and M-P Typ240   Leica S2 digital medium format
Leica M-D Typ 262 and Leica M60   Leica S digital medium format
Leica M Monochrom Typ246 digital rangefinder    
Leica M Monochrom MM digital rangefinder   Leica Cine Lenses:
Leica M9 and Leica M-E digital rangefinder   Leica Cine lenses from CW Sonderoptic
Leica M9-Professional digital rangefinder    
Leica M4 35mm film rangefinder    
Leica M lenses:   Leica SLR cameras:
Leica 21mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica SL 2015 Type 601 mirrorless fullframe
Leica 21mm Leica Super-Elmar-M ASPH f/3.4   Leica R8/R9/DMR film & digital 35mm dSLR cameras
Leica 21mm Super-Angulon-M f/3.4   Leica R10 [cancelled]
Leica 28mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4   Leica R4 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summilux-M ASPH FLE f/1.4 and f/1.4 AA   Leica R3 electronic 35mm film SLR
Leica 35mm Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leicaflex SL/SL mot 35mm film SLR
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95    
Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/1.0 and f/1.2   Leica R lenses:
Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f//1.4   Leica 19mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leica 50mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 35mm Elmarit-R f/2.8
Leitz 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 "rigid" Series II   Leica 50mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leica 75mm Summilux-M f/1.4   Leica 60mm Macro-Elmarit f/2.8
Leica 75mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 80mm Summilux-F f/1.4
Leica 90mm APO-Summicron-M ASPH f/2.0   Leica 90mm Summicron-R f/2.0
Leica 90mm Summarit-M f/2.5   Leica 180mm R lenses
Leica 90mm Elmarit f/2.8   Leica 400mm Telyt-R f/6.8
Leitz 90mm Thambar f/2.2   Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/2.8
    Leica 35-70mm Vario-Elmarit-R f/4.0
     
History and overview:   Small Leica cameras:
Leica History   Leica Q full-frame mirrorless
Leica Definitions   Leica Digilux 2 vintage digital rangefinder
Leica Lens Compendium   Leica Digilux 1
Leica Camera Compendium   Leica X
The Solms factory and Leica Wetzlar Campus   Leica Sofort instant camera
    Leica Minilux 35mm film camera
    Leica CM 35mm film camera
     
Photography Knowledge   Thorsten Overgaard books and education:
Calibrating computer screen for photographers   Thorsten Overgaard Masterclasses & Workshops
Quality of Light   Overgaard Lightroom Survival Kit for Lightroom CC/6
Lightmeters   "Finding the Magic of Light" eBook (English)
Color meters for accurate colors (White Balance)   "Die Magie des Lichts Finden" eBook (German)
White Balance & WhiBal   "Composition in Photography" eBook
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Above: Cosy moment with the Apple MacBook Pro 15" Retina, LaCie 4TB hard drive and the Leiac M-D 262 digital rangefinder. © 2016 Thorsten Overgaard.

 





 


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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

Feel free to e-mail to thorsten@overgaard.dk for
advice, ideas or improvements.

 

 
           
  · © Copyright 1996-2017 · Thorsten von Overgaard


 

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