FD Photoessay: Urban abstracts in monochrome

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It’s been a little while since I posted any images from Kuala Lumpur; the truth is that I don’t actually shoot that much in my home city these days. Partially it’s because I feel I’ve really plumbed the depths of most parts of the city; partially it’s because I try to keep some potential in reserve for when I have to go out and review a camera – finding new material in a city in which you’ve shot close to 200,000 frames is actually quite tough.

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Places still available for Melbourne and London workshops

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From the Prague 2013 Making Outstanding Images workshop.

A few places are left for the Melbourne and London Making Outstanding Images workshops. Please click here for more details and testimonials from previous workshops, or if you’d like to register, please send me an email.

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

2014 workshops now open – KL, Melbourne, London

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From the Prague 2013 Making Outstanding Images workshop.

I’m pleased to announce dates and details for the first half of 2014′s workshops, starting with the first Masterclass in Kuala Lumpur during the Thaipusam festival, followed by Melbourne and London! Click on for more details, or if you’d like to register, please send me an email.

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

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Diametric opposites: my upcoming exhibition

Leica Starhill exhibition poster v1 jan13

I’m happy to present my upcoming exhibition sponsored by Leica and Keat Camera at their Starhill Gallery store in Kuala Lumpur – starting from this Friday 18th of January, and running for a month til 18 Feb. If you’re in town, you’re welcome to join the opening reception on Friday 18th at 7.30pm; I’ll be there giving personal tours. Thanks! MT

KL reader meetup! Saturday 8 Dec, 3pm

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It’s been a while since the last one, which makes it high time for a reader meetup! This time we’ll have a theme – classic cameras. Bring along your favourites; the rarer and filmier the better. Anybody turning up with modern digital only is buying drinks. :)

Location: ACME, Troika, near KLCC
Time: 3pm, Saturday 8 December

Leave a comment below or on the Facebook page if you’re coming. If we’ve got less than five, then we’ll take a rain check and do it another day when more people can make it…

See you all Saturday! MT

Workshop report: Intro to Wildlife, Nov 2012 Kuala Lumpur

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Too close. RX100

The final workshop for this year was something a little different to my usual travel/ street or photoshop and lighting sessions: an introduction to basic wildlife photography techniques. Five curious photographers (including one who flew in from Hong Kong) discovered that wildlife photography is actually quite serious physical labor, and that rain isn’t the most pleasant environment to shoot in – but it does yield rather pictorially interesting results.

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Sleep with one eye open. OM-D, 100-300

We covered basic long lens techniques, tripod and monopod use; stalking birds and getting close; dealing with troublesome lighting and high contrast situations; animal portraiture; getting the right AF settings, and finally touching on species behaviour and what constitutes an interesting animal photograph. I even shot with a compact at one point to prove that you really can get close with the right technique – no more than 100mm. The session was split into two half days – between rain, exhaustion and other commitments it seemed like a smart thing to do – and in-between, images were reviewed and critiqued for feedback and general compositional good-practice reminders, which apply to all subjects.

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To prove you can do birding with a compact. RX100

Ultimately though, wildlife photography is polarizing: you either like it, or you don’t. There are plenty of things about it that most certainly aren’t fun – hauling heavy equipment around and being eaten by mosquitoes, for instance, or being ‘blessed’ by the birds from above – I think we all got bombed at one point or another – even physically handling the lenses requires some practice. However, the biggest challenge is inevitably patience: in the real world, you might well spend days, or weeks, on location and not see the particular species you’re looking for; the making of ‘Planet Earth’ is highly recommended for a taste into the world of the wildlife photographer/ cinematographer.

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Hidden. OM-D, 500/4P

We shot at a ‘safe’ location where the birds are captive in a large open-air aviary and relatively tame; they’ll still fly away if you get too close or move suddenly, but at least they’re still in the general area; it’s understandably completely useless to try and teach in a situation where there is no subject material! That said, if you’ve ever been curious, taking a trip to the local zoo or bird park with a decently long lens – say rent a 400 or 500mm – will tell you very quickly if wildlife photography is something you want to pursue farther or not.

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Part of the park. RX100

For the curious, I was using an Olympus OM-D with a Nikon 500/4 P generously loaned to me by one of my students on the first day (1000/4 equivalent, and an old familiar lens of mine – I used to do most of my wildlife work with one) and the Panasonic 100-300/4-5.6 on the second day (200-600 equivalent). I have to be honest and say that whilst having that much reach was great, it could often be too much; manual focusing is a lot easier than you’d expect on such a combination because the depth of field transition is quite fast. The second day was liberating from a weight standpoint; I was not envying David with his 1Dx and 600/4! That said, in a fast moving environment with say charging buffalo, I’m pretty sure I’d want the latter combination. MT

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By popular demand, I will be doing a US tour over late March/ early April, stopping at San Francisco (two sessions), New York and probably Boston. Please send me an email if you’d like more details – things are still in the planning stages, which means plans can be kept a bit fluid. Thanks!

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

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Cloverleaf. OM-D, 100-300

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The thinker. OM-D, 100-300

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Scarlet ibis. OM-D, 500/4P

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Duck with halo. OM-D, 100-300

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Lost in a manmade world. OM-D, 100-300

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Sheltering from the rain. OM-D, 100-300

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Grooming. OM-D, 500/4P

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Untitled. OM-D, 500/4P

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Vigilant. OM-D, 500/4P

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Hidden peacock. OM-D, 100-300

Gentle reminder: two places left for the Intro to Wildlife Photography workshop…

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…to be held in Kuala Lumpur on Fri 23rd and Sat 24th of November, next week. More details heresend me an email if you’re interested. Thanks! MT

Last workshop for November 2012: Introduction to Wildlife Photography, Kuala Lumpur

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By popular demand, I’m going to be conducting one more workshop this month in Kuala Lumpur: an introduction to wildlife photography techniques. Due to our current weather and afternoon rains, the session will be split into two mornings – Friday 23 November, 9-1pm and Saturday 24 November, 9-1pm. The sessions run continuously, and the break in between allows for critiques and literal and figurative recharging of batteries between the two sessions.

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Since wildlife photography can be very hit and miss – in the past, I’ve spent entire weekends in swamps with only five minutes of action – we will be conducting the workshop in a ‘safe’ environment where there definitely will be animals to shoot: the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park at Lake Gardens.

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The topics covered will include:
- Long lens technique and shot discipline
- Approaching your subjects
- Understanding animal behaviour and what constitutes an interesting wildlife image
- Use of context and environment
- Metering techniques under difficult lighting
- Understanding and managing AF

There will also of course be feedback and critique sessions at the end of each half-day.

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Finally, it’s worth remembering that wildlife photography isn’t just applicable to wildlife: the skills of anticipation and shot discipline are valuable for every type of photography. The workshop will be jointly supported by the local distributor of Gitzo tripods and monopods, Shriro. They will be bringing along a range of tripods and monopods to experience.

A quick note on equipment requirements: Although you can bring along your big guns and DSLRs – 300mm would be a minimum, and 400mm+ preferable – you can also produce compelling work with smaller formats such as a M4/3 camera and 100-300 zoom, or even a bridge camera – a lot of the images in this post were shot with a Leica V-Lux 3. 

The price for both days with an experienced wildlife photographer – I shot mainly wildlife for five years, and my some of my work can be seen here – is just RM1,250 inclusive of park admission. Please send an email to mingthein2@gmail.com for bookings or more information. Thanks! MT

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the Flickr group!

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

Workshop report: 30 Sep Finding Light in Kuala Lumpur

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Group portrait with chiaroscuro. Sony RX100

Two days after the Making Light Workshop, three of the original (masochistic?) participants joined three more new ones for a part two: Finding Light. I originally decided to run these as a pair to collaborate with photographer Kristian Dowling, who was unfortunately not able to make either one of the workshops in the end. No biggie.

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Quartered. Sony RX100

The underlying point behind the pair of workshop sessions was that street and studio are far more related than you might think: how are you going to create stunning light and compositions if you don’t know what it looks like? Similarly, how is one going to recognize it if you don’t know what is possible when all of the elements of the photograph are within the control of the photographer?

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Why would this not be street photography? Olympus OM-D, ZD60/2.8

We started off with the obligatory coffee, a discussion on what street photography is and isn’t, and some thoughts on etiquette, before finishing with a quick critique of participant images. Street photography, to me, is something that is a very ill-defined genre (and to be the subject of another article, I think) – let’s just say for now that anything you see when walking is fair game – people, street scenes, abstracts, architecture. I generally approach it from a reportage perspective. On the subject of etiquette, I think it’s simple: don’t do anything you wouldn’t want done to you. This includes unflattering images and invasion of personal space.

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Untitled. Sony RX100

For the first hour or so, we just walked – no cameras were allowed. This was to encourage participants to start seeing and looking for frames; I would stop and point out interesting things, compositions, geometries and other potential shots, to the point that before we reached the first staging point, there were several cameras out…

Exercise one covered seeing in place: conveniently, the place I selected for lunch was deliberately done so because of both the quality of its beef noodles, as well more importantly, the fact that it was an extremely rich photographic hunting ground. Once duly refueled, the participants were required to stay in their seats, and shoot from that position. Lens changes were allowed. This forced them to think carefully about perspectives, foregrounds, potentially intrusive elements, as well as of course composition and light.

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Shooting in place. It forces you to find compositions in a scene; those little documentary moments.

For the second exercise we did something I like to call ‘stages’. The stage, in street photography, is a background or backdrop with a interesting texture or light; it’s a good way of teaching anticipation and timing because the composition is predetermined, and the photographer just waits for subject to walk through the right portion of the stage before pressing the shutter button.

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A staged example. Sony RX100

Next came timing and anticipation – I like to use point and shoots to teach this because they have just about the right amount of shutter lag to represent your reaction time when shooting with a responsive camera; however for this exercise we substituted with a 2-second self timer.

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Practicing timing with the help of a handy wall, and lots of pedestrians. The objective was to trap the pedestrian at the very edge of the wall – but while the 2-second self timer was running. Olympus OM-D, ZD60/2.8

Another tool I like to use is layering; this can be achieved by means of reflections, stacked foregrounds and backgrounds, or longer perspectives – or perhaps a combination of all three. This technique works quite well when there’s a lot of glass around, but becomes more challenging when you are in a ‘dirty’ environment and nothing is clean or reflective.

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Bus reflections. Olympus OM-D, ZD60/2.8

The final, and most difficult exercise of the day was to learn to hold your ground and shoot through people – this lets you get very, very close indeed, to the point of having headshots with a 50mm. It requires some courage to position yourself in the middle of a stream of pedestrians, but once the participants built up their confidence, it became easy – just look like you belong.

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Shoot through exercise. Sony RX100

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And a result of this technique. Olympus OM-D, ZD60/2.8

Putting everything together wrapped up the day – an opportunity for the participants to figure out which of the techniques best suited their style by just shooting anything and everything – and I’m pleased to report a huge improvement in composition and angle from the images I saw at the first briefing. I think what was most telling is that none of them really had the same style – it was a consistent mix of the various techniques taught, and with different subjects. Well done!

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Divided reality – my personal shot of the day. Note leading lines, quadrants, context, perspective use, human elements…Sony RX100

Based on the success and feedback of this session, I’ll probably be doing another introduction to street photography workshop in Kuala Lumpur at some point, as well as a standalone introduction to Photoshop day – both will be for a very limited number of participants – I like to keep things small because it allows me to give each person more attention – please visit again regularly for updates. MT

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A visual metaphor for our banking system. Sony RX100

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the Flickr group!

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

Workshop report: 28 Sep Making Light in Kuala Lumpur

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Our model for the day, Aliza Kim. Nikon D800E, 85/1.8 G

Although unfortunately Kristian Dowling couldn’t co-present in the end due to food poisoning, the show must go on, and it did: an intimate and dedicated class of participants joined me for a different look at making light in the studio. We started with a deconstruction and minor reprogramming of preconceptions: the use of a studio is about total control for all aspects of the image, not just lighting; why compromise when you are in a repeatable, 100% controllable environment?

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A simple one-light portrait. Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

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And setup shot for the above: only the 4×6″ softbox was in play.

The morning was spent examining firstly the basics of the principles of composition, color theory and psychology, the importance of perfect color and how to achieve it, and finally, deconstructing lighting under several increasingly complex scenarios – one light, two lights, reflectors, multiple lights, balancing with ambient…I’m proud to say that the students did an increasingly good job of figuring out what the light setups used were, even if I did throw them a few curve balls :) (There’s a reason why this post comes at the end of the last week’s focus on lighting articles!)

After lunch, we moved on to replicating most of these setups, starting simple with one large softbox…

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…a variety of poses, practice with timing, framing and anticipating where to leave space when the model moved…

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…including setups involving two lights:

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…harsh contrast…

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…strong backlight (that’s the 4×6 softbox serving as backdrop in the left edge of the frame)…

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…the addition of beauty dishes to balance out the background to provide a clean white look with flattering light bleed around the edges of limbs and torso…

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Nikon D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar

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Setup shot

…some occasional theatrical emoting from the coach…

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…and the use of a single-beauty light from a more oblique angle to create interesting silhouettes:

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One more costume change later, and I demonstrated the versatility of speedlights for location work and ease of creating completely different effects by mixing diffuse and harsh light. Here, we used a three-light setup to create a very edgy, moody, feel; later on adding a cinematic and emotional element by varying the color tone of the final shot, or omitting it completely. The speedlights were set to manual output, triggered and controlled via iTTL for the Nikon shooters, and switched over to SU4 slave mode for the Canon shooters (and lone Sony RX100, the B-roll camera of yours truly.)

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Flash cunningly triggered by the built-in on a Sony RX100, shot in manual mode

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Sony RX100

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Nikon D800E

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Nikon D800E

We finished up the day with a quick Photoshop postprocessing demonstration to clean up a few files for print by the studio’s resident print master, Wesley Wong of Giclee Art – thus completing the imaging chain, and showing just how much further you can take your images when you’re in control of all of the elements. Even at 13×19″, the RX100 images were virtually indistinguishable from the D800E – we would have to go even further, probably to 25×40″ or so, before a significant difference would be discernable. Score one for the argument for sufficiency! I’m pleased to report that everybody had a great time and learned a lot (or at least were polite enough not to say otherwise :) – in the words of one participant, “I think my head just exploded.”

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Our group and model.

I’d like to conclude with a quick note on equipment: we were using Profoto Pro heads, a D4 pack, one beauty dish with and without 25deg grid, 4×6′ and 1×4′ softboxes, three Nikon SB900s, umbrellas and a whole array of clamps and stands for lighting; the model images in this post were shot by me (except for the one ‘Charlie’s Angels’ shot where noted) using a Nikon D800E, Nikon AFS 85/1.8 G, Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 and 2/100 Makro-Planars. B-roll, documentary, and one of the model images was shot using a Sony RX100, except of course the images of me which were shot by the students as the camera made its rounds to be fondled…

I’d like to say a big thank you to the participants, and Shriro-Malaysia/ Profoto for the use of the studio and lighting equipment. Stay tuned for more upcoming workshops!

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If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting the site via Paypal (mingthein2@gmail.com); Ming Thein’s Email School of Photography – learn exactly what you want to learn, when you want to learn it or learn how to achieve a similar look with our Photoshop workflow DVDs.  You can also get your gear from Amazon.com via this referral link.  Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the Flickr group!

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

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