USA 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop report

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I know it’s been a really long time coming, but I’ve been so buried by other work that I simply have not had time to write the post and process the images – my apologies.

March 2013 was both the first time I’d been to the USA in more than ten years, as well as the first workshops of 2013. For this trip, I used tried a new teaching approach. Previously, I’d focused on subject-specific techniques; what I found was that whilst it was enjoyable for the participants, there were frequently fundamentals of technique and composition that were missing across the board, and these were elements that could be taught in a subject-independent way that would raise one’s photographic bar consistently across the board. Also, unlike Tokyo, nobody had to lie on the floor this time.

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The workshops covered three days and took everything you thought you knew about photography, shelved them, and started from the start – I’m not talking about how to use your camera or what depth of field is here – I’m talking about learning to recognize and use good light; learning how to use natural elements in your frame to strengthen compositions and consciously direct a viewer’s eyes through the frame; employing perspective; how to make balanced images, and using secondary subjects to tell a story – amongst other things, of course. We focused on practical assignment-based learning for the first two days, exploring the city streets and with me demonstrating each of the assignments live. Participants would then go off and shoot to complete their assignments, and regroup afterwards for critique and feedback.

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At the end of the second day, participants focused on a more long-term, philosophical aspect of photography: understanding and exploring style. We undertook several exercises designed to quickly and simply create images in various popular styles, followed by a deconstruction and a focus on individual style and evolution/ experimentation/ development of the best-fitting style from the earlier exercise. Given that the actual stylistic development process takes years or even decades in reality, compressing the basics of this down to a few hours was a bit ambitious – I think I’d like to spend a whole day at least in future sessions.

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We concluded the sessions with a day of review and Photoshop: establishing which images work, and why, is just as important as being able to create them in the first place. There are exceptions to every rule, and just because an image checks off the technical criteria doesn’t necessarily mean it also succeeds on an aesthetic level. It’s also important to be familiar with what has to be done in camera, and what has to be done in PS (hint: it’s about local vs global adjustments). Finally, we established workflow: this is important for output consistency, speed and control. It’s also the reason why my images have a consistent look: it’s because I use the same logic to process all of them (though not the same exact methods/ amounts, of course).

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Note: You may spot some images from the Google campus in this set – that’s because I was there for a day giving a workshop and talk; there’s also a collaboration in the pipeline. More details on that as and when things are finalised.

For the next round of workshops in Europe in the second half of this year, I’m planning to stick to the same overall structure, but with a couple important changes: firstly, we’ll be incorporating daily detailed review sessions to shorten the feedback loop. Secondly, I’ll be making the days modular: you can come for all days, or one day, or two days, or whichever combination appeals to you. This is to accommodate students whose schedules aren’t sufficiently flexible, or who only want to learn about certain portions of the syllabus. Thirdly, I’m considering running for four days total including photoshop, or dropping photoshop entirely and focusing even more intensively on the photographic/ in-camera portion – it really depends on what the next group would like to do. The longer format will also allow the inclusion of some subject-specific exercises – mostly related to street/ travel/ urban styles.

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Overall though, I think I have to declare the USA tour a success – I had 32 students in five sessions, with several coming for more than one. It was a great pleasure to get to know so many of you in person; I can only say that it’s very likely I’ll be back again next year, but to a different round of cities. There’s much of the country left to explore! Once again – none of this would be possible without you, the readers, so I must extend an enormous heartfelt thanks to all of you for participating, flying in, and a special mention those of you who went out of your way to assist – Romain, Nicolas, Sina, Felipe, Charles (who drove in from NJ just to say hi). I’m flattered and humbled.

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In any case, don’t take my word for it – early comments from the participants have been trickling in, so all I can say is see for yourself. And if you’d like to take part – the European tour is now open for booking – it’s set to straddle September/October, I’ll be visiting Prague, Munich and Amsterdam…please shoot me an email if you’d like to register your interest – places are limited. I’ve also got a couple of spots left for Singapore in July. Hope you can join us! MT

The full set of images from behind the scenes at the workshops are here on Flickr.

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A few testimonials from the USA 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop participants

Andrew Marrero (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): I had a great time getting to learn from you was well as getting to meet both you and your wife. I’d love to be able to join you again in the future with camera in hand. I had a blast, would love to get with you again soon Ming!

Jim Lozier (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): Thank you again for an excellent workshop. In looking over the images I took over the course of the two days I can definitely see a progression which is pretty amazing for such a short period of time. I hope that you enjoyed your time in the states and have a smooth trip back home.

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Dr. Paul Lewis (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): Thank you for sharing your vast knowledge of photography with our group of nice people. I enjoyed meeting everyone and the amount of instruction that was presented during the three days. I would need at least two or three more workshops to get all the information that was given…Your workshop exposed me to a lot of things that I knew nothing about before attending…If I live long enough, I would certainly attend your workshop again. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with us. I had a good time.

Chris Suan (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop) : Thanks for a great workshop. I really feel much better about knowing how to take some great pictures.

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Jed Best (Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): I just wanted to thank you for a very interesting and informative three days. While I may not have showed it, it was great and I learned a lot. Hopefully, if ever I am in Asia or you are NYC again, I can take another workshop with you. In the meantime, I look forward to reading your blog and site assiduously.

Jill Maguire (Apr 2013 San Francisco Workshop): Ming, I had a great time at your workshop and learned so much. Safe travels home for you both.

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Jesse Hall (Apr 2013 San Francisco Workshop): Thank you, Ming! I did learn a lot — although I’d read what you’ve written about these topics, spending real time practicing specific things and getting feedback helps much more than reading. Plus, it was a lot of fun!

Gian Dionisio (Mar 2013 San Francisco workshop and Apr 2013 NYC workshop): I can confidently say that attending this workshop has been the best investment I’ve made for my photography; the knowledge and techniques that he taught us apply not only to street photography, but all photography in general. From the fundamentals of finding good light and basic compositional balance, to more advanced concepts such a layering and storytelling, all of these ideas can be applied to any style of photography. Ming’s teachings have completely restructured the way I see the world photographically, and I would definitely attend his workshops again in the future. PS: One of the most important point of this workshop is being near the master himself. Watching him in action as listening to his commentary as he shoots is in itself incredibly insightful. Additionally, having instant and personalised feedback during the shooting process is…. I’ll let you assess the value of that. :)

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Ciao Pui (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop and Apr 2013 NYC Workshop): Sitting next to Ming in San Francisco while he was processing these photos, I can attest that his “judicious application” [of Photoshop] is faster than using any presets, not to mention consistency. His workshops will demystify and challenge your views on photography… if you’re open.

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Dale Perlman (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop): I really was stimulated by your workshop to re-think the fundamentals of making an image. From such a reassessment I find myself thinking about my own photography in a fresh, challenging way. I am optimistic improved images will be the result of this process. Keep teaching!

Richard Sandor (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop): A short note of thanks for having provided such an informative workshop. I’ve been to a number of workshops, but none have had the structure that yours did.

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Leslie Gleim (Mar 2013 San Francisco Workshop): First let me say thank you very much for truly pushing my work and thinking around how to use the language of photography! I did want you to know that you made Photoshop more understandable than any person whose tried to explain/teach it me. It seemed FAR more intuitive — today was mainly me figuring it out and playing!! Thank you so much for your insight and help! Safe travels and thank you for making the journey over! Your workshop was invaluable and I learned to look through “new” eyes. Awesome!


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

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  1. Franco Morante (Adelaide, South Australia) says:

    Looks like everyone enjoyed themselves. Wish I could of joined in.

  2. Really looking forward to Prague, Ming! This just throws coals on the fire!

  3. Great to hear the success Ming and great photos here. I hope your future workshops to the US will allow me to attend. I’m in Canada but maybe one of the future workshops will be close enough. Congratulations!

  4. Wonderful Report Ming! Hope to make it next time! Best Wishes – Eric

  5. Photos are marked private. :-)

    • Just the large size – I’ll have to fix that the next time I have a computer Internet connection. One of the few things I can’t do off the ipad.

  6. Do I spot a lot of Panny 20mm, Oly 45mm and 75mm?

    • Yep. The first San Francisco workshop was almost entirely OM-D, too! Had two in the second one, New York had about another half a dozen. Plus I was carrying one.

  7. Looks great and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves…why don’t you come down to NZ and do one for nature/landscape/starscape workshop, it’ll be magical!!…p/s: from the photos above, I can’t see a single dslr….a dire sign of things to come?

    • We had four DSLRs in five workshops – very, very few indeed. A lot of M4/3, and a lot of Leica. I think weight is becoming a big concern now that we’re well over the hill for image quality.

      As for New Zealand – I’d love to, if the demand is there; I’m not sure it is.

    • Look closely at the second photo above and you’ll see a squinting bald guy who lugged his D800E over hill and dale for two days :)

  8. Graham Wood says:

    I’d buy a video of you in action, in a heartbeat. $50 without a seconds thought, as a rough guesstimate for possible pricing? Just an edited down, distilled mini documentary on what goes on in the workshop would provide massive insights to those whose lives and locations restrict attending one of your workshops. I’m sure there has to be somebody with strong video skills among your readership who’d gladly volunteer to be your shadow and help others like myself by watching and recording you at work. Ps, I’d like to buy your photoshop DVD and live in Australia. If you could send me a link so I can buy that, I’d greatly appreciate it. Regards, GW.

    • You know, that might actually be doable on the upcoming Singapore workshop. I’ll make some enquiries.

      As for the Photoshop videos (now direct download, and with intermediate/ introduction flavours) – there’s now a direct checkout in the Teaching Store which works with credit cards or Paypal.

    • Tom Liles says:

      Graham, I had a go on a couple of Ming’s PS videos recently and find them useful. There’s an important difference between saying that and “found them useful.” Happy customer :)
      I would frame them as cast-off points rather than top-down “do this, do this, do this, do this…” cookie cutter type instructions. They make you want to play with PS, but honestly my over-riding desire after watching was to go out and take some pictures; to have some fresh meat, as it were, to try the new approach — a better phrase than ‘new tools’ — on. Give them a go.

      Mike Ong’s Leica M4 will live on for eternity!

      • The simple reason for that is there’s no one-size-fits all for every photograph, simply because every image is different. Like with the workshops, all I can do is give you the tools; ultimately the photographer needs to decide how to best use them to suit their intended end product.

    • +1 for Ming In Action: The Movie! I’d buy it!

  9. Peter Boender says:

    Hi Ming! Great to see your report and the pictures. To the readers of this blog: as a participant in one of the workshops (April NYC, the big guy in blue) I can attest to the feedback of the others given in the report above: the workshop is highly instructional and valuable. The learning curve is steep, but (and someone already mentioned this) if you have an open mind and approach you will learn a tremendous lot. I really liked the deconstructive approach: it’s a bit like starting all over again and built from there with basic elements from an artistic and compositional standpoint (you should know your technical stuff and camera specifics). Finding good light and using (natural) compositional elements (leading lines, framing, mirroring for a second story) really forces you to look with your eyes again, and not so much with the camera. After the course I did notice a change in my photography and my approach to shooting: I now look much more consciously and with more predetermination about my desired results. Quite a feat for such a relatively short course, which for me made it invaluable! Great job Ming, I really did enjoy my time in NYC with you and the other participants. Seriously and highly recommended!

  10. Iskabibble says:

    I am guessing film shooters wont work out with these workshops due to lack of instant imaging, correct?

    • You’re welcome to join, and a lot of my students shoot film too, but the problem is that from a learning standpoint lack of instant feedback means it’s not as impactful. You could get your film developed at a 1-h lab at the end of the day for review the following morning if you wanted, I suppose.

  11. Ed Lara says:

    Great photos and recap; I am sorry I was not able to make this year’s session. Look forward to joining you in NYC next year!

  12. Will you consider Miami,perhaps? Always good weather, well almost…

  13. I’ve finally cut my hair since these workshops! And I would love to attend Europe, but I don’t think the timing will work to well with my school schedule, hahaha.

  14. Oh no, I have the wrong gear! Or, “Oh no”, I “need” to buy new gear. :p I’ve apparently fallen out of times by carrying my D700 and 24-70 with me *everywhere*, when it seems I should be carrying an E-M5 instead. :) I guess my back would thank me.
    Anyway, nice write-up! Looks like good times, and educational for all involved I am sure. :)

    • Hah! Well, carry whatever works for you: some days, that’s my Hasselblad. Other days, that’s a little Canon 520 HS. And yet others, it’s the OM-D…

      • Indeed. :) I’m also always carrying the RX100, and if I could get close to what you’re getting out of that camera, I think that would be the only thing I carried for most of the time. There’s just a level of detail in your images that I don’t get close to, no matter the camera. So I know I must be doing something wrong, just have to find out what it is. :)
        Btw, nice black&whites from the A, from your reviews it sounded like that would be difficult to achieve, but of course you pulled through. :)

        • I think it’s mostly shot discipline, though there’s probably a bit of postprocessing in there plus knowing what the limits of the equipment are and sticking within them…

          Re. the Coolpix A: it’s not that it can’t make nice B&W conversions, it’s that they require a lot more work than the GR did. Given a choice, I’d obviously prefer to do as little work in post as possible. My recent experiences with the new E-P5 and SOOC JPEG are making me revaluate the OM-D as a JPEG camera again…

          • I shot the A in RAW + JPEG mode for a couple of weeks out of curiosity, and it’s pretty good (for colour)–certainly a viable option, where just a few years ago it would have been laughable. Very tempted to try an Oly after seeing those E-P5 shots…

            • Their JPEGs are even better. Require a little fiddling to taste with the development settings etc. but once you get it right…

              The only thing lacking is that final bit of crispiness you can get out of a perfectly-sharpened raw file.

          • Have you thought about setting up a forum? :) This site is sort of like it already, except it’s a little harder to find your own posts and look for replies since it’s tied to the articles.
            Anyway, shot discipline, yes, postprocessing, absolutely. But I also think it’s related to getting the right DOF for the situation, which you seem to do. I think I’m a little conservative when it comes to DOF, meaning it’s always a little shallow. (Or I don’t get focus right.) Perhaps not a problem with the RX100, but other cameras. And I guess these things compounds, so when I stab the shutter button, don’t quite nail focus, have the wrong DOF with rubbish PP, haha, it’s a mess. :p

            Looking at the pictures here makes me feel I chose the wrong mirrorless system. :) I was concerned with the lens lineup, but wanted the bigger sensor and simply couldn’t resist its good looks (ugh, shallow!), so I went with the Fuji X-E1. Now I feel I should have gone with the E-M5 instead, I really want that 45 1.8 and 75 1.8 and the other primes. :) The E-P5 amplifies the feeling of having made the wrong system choice. Oh well.

            Good times though, the amount of choice we have these days. :) Very much a luxury problem.

            • Yes, but as mentioned several times already, our local laws put all of the liability for everything posted on a site back on the site owner, so I’m not going down that road. I also just don’t have the time to moderate everything. Besides, as you say, we’re pretty much there already – I prefer to think of the comments as guided discussion. There’s always the risk of things turning into an equipment-fest… ;)

              Always pick your lenses first. There’s no guarantee that the manufacturers will come out withs something you want later – I wonder how many people bought into the Nikon 1 thinking, “oh, there must be a 32/1.2 for that later!”

  15. Rudy Mareel says:

    The testimonials confirm that it was a great workshop. I’m looking forward to the Amsterdam one in fall. Cheers, Rudy.

    • Hey Rudy, I remember you registered interest but wasn’t sure if you wanted to book a place or not – Amsterdam is filling up rapidly and I’ve only got a couple of slots left, so please shoot me an email if you’d like to confirm a seat…thanks!

  16. Sigmund Krøvel-Velle says:

    Hello Ming Thein; and thanks for your very interesting and high quality blog.
    In this post you say:
    - «Finally, we established workflow: this is important for output consistency, speed and control. It’s also the reason why my images have a consistent look: it’s because I use the same logic to process all of them..»
    Could you please give us a brief outline of your workflow?

  17. Just another plug for Melbourne Australia! I’ll definitely book in if you’re coming down!!
    Plenty of contacts here too!


  1. […] March 2013 was both the first time I’d been to the USA in more than ten years, as well as the first workshops of 2013. For this trip, I used tried a new teaching approach. Previously, I’d focused on subject-specific techniques; what I found was that whilst it was enjoyable for the participants, there were frequently fundamentals of technique and composition that were missing across the board, and these were elements that could be taught in a subject-independent way that would raise one’s photographic bar consistently across the board. Also, unlike Tokyo, nobody had to lie on the floor this time.  […]

  2. […] was a revised and improved version of the Making Outstanding Images framework I used for the USA workshops earlier in the year, and a prototype of what I’ll be covering on days one and two in […]

  3. […] Singapore and USA workshop reports are here and here […]

  4. […] from previous workshops can be seen here – Amsterdam/ Prague, NYC/ San Francisco, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong/ Macau, Kuala Lumpur one, two and […]

  5. […] from previous workshops can be seen here – Amsterdam/ Prague, NYC/ San Francisco, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong/ Macau, Kuala Lumpur one, two and […]

  6. […] from previous workshops can be seen here – Amsterdam/ Prague, NYC/ San Francisco, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong/ Macau, Kuala Lumpur one, two and […]

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