Photoessay: New York street cinematics

_5021101 copy
Possessiveness of taxis is a New York thing

I found the people and streets of New York to be eminently suited to a bit of cinematic street photography. Perhaps it’s the fact that so many movies have already been filmed in New York, or it’s the quality of light filtering between and reflecting off buildings, or it’s the various diverse characters that live in the city. These are little moments, vignettes and slices-of-life; I don’t want to use the word ‘stolen’, but it does sometimes feel like one is peering into a pre-coreographed scene and simply borrowing a frame. I sincerely apologise in advance for having some fun with the captions.

_5021070 copy
Forrest Grump

These images were shot with an Olympus OM-D and Leica 50/1.4 ASPH-M, via M-M4/3 adaptor. It’s not the easiest combination to use, but I think you’ll agree that the rendering quality of the results is worth it – I have another photoessay of cinematics from Chinatown, San Francisco, here. Enjoy! MT

The OM-D is available here (B&H, Amazon), the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH here (B&H, Amazon), and adaptors, here (B&H, Amazon).

_5021106 copy
Even the strong have their weaknesses

_5021194 copy
To be young, free and have longer hair than your girlfriend…

_5020867 copy
A bearish outlook on the pretzel market (Wall Street)

_5021347 copy
Making order

_5021539 copyDistractions

_5021584 copy
‘I still don’t see what all the fuss is about…’

_5020903 copyHome late

_5022782 copy
Aloofness: you can’t see it, but she’s just not that into you

_5022832 copy
Out of place, out of time

_5022640 copy
A small piece in the chain of evidence suggesting Superman may in fact be back

_5022672 copy
‘Since we have no chesspieces…imagine Knight to Queen Six!’

_5021720 copy
‘But you said half an hour ago you had a table for me!’

_5021746 copy
‘Hmmm…Friday…Saturday…should I? What if he’s a jerk? Oh god, maybe he’s like just trying me to get to my friend…’

_5022231 copy
Cardboard boxes, check. Plastic bags, check. Next stop, Robitussin! 


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. 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 reader Flickr group!


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


  1. E-M5 or E-M1?

    5, I presume…

  2. I would enjoy these photos much more without the captions.

    • Don’t read them, then.

      • Godfrey says:

        That’s a pretty snippy comment, Ming.

        It’s very difficult to NOT read a photo’s caption, particularly the first time you come across a photo. Our eyes are naturally drawn to any representation of language and meaning. This is why it’s so important to be aware of the influence of words on perception.

  3. Enjoyed your cinematic tour. Noticed that your DOF varied over the selection, to almost a small sensor, deep DOF with the statue shot while most of the other still retained a recognizable backdrop. I have a 50 year old Pentax Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8 that I am now encouraged to take out of storage and try on my E-P3 at a friend’s wedding next week – but I’ll definitely first need to get some practice with the manual focusing. Any tips to offer? I presume you pre-set the distance and fine tune it when you actually point the camera at a scene?

    • Thanks Mark. There’s a right amount of bokeh – it’s to do with context and feel, and will be explained in more depth tomorrow…

      As for MF on the OM-D – the EVF helps, as does the stabilizer. Shoot raw, and turning sharpening and contrast up to maximum; this isn’t to affect the output, but it’s so a slight halo develops around the in-focus edges, which is visible as a shimmer as you pass through the plane of focus – a bit like rudimentary peaking.

      • Interesting, (yes I’m devouring your blog backwards). I’m having some success focusing my Takumar 55/1.8 on the OMD screen. Not liking the EVF at all though. I’m gonna have to try practicing this combo around Cincinnati. I love how the 50 gives you such nice separation between elements of the image.

        • Pulling focus works better on the LCD; there seem to be more pixels to make life a bit easier, and the whole image is of course larger…

  4. That’s New York – well seen Ming. My son recently sent me this 1930s color footage on NY. It is very much the way I remember NY in the mid forties because the majority of cars on the street were still much the same because few new ones were made during the war. The clothes, street signs and buildings are close enough so that they trigger early memories.

    • The funny thing is that for me, it’s the people – the other little visual cues aside, they’re precisely how one visualizes New Yorkers through the influence of popular culture etc…

  5. Did you use A-mode of OMD?
    Any adjustment in terms of contrast, colour saturation, etc.., in the camera setting?

    • Manual, raw, and processing via ACR/ PS. It’s obvious they don’t come out of the camera like this…I really don’t know why everybody asks the same question especially when it’s at the bottom of every single post that I have an established PS workflow and it’s available via video.

      • I think when Samuel has taken his 10,000th photo, he might have a better appreciation of what it is that he is looking at in your work ! 🙂

        • Well, in all fairness the JPEG compression and small viewing sizes on the web don’t quite have the same impact as a TIFF on my 27″ monitor, or better yet, a large print…

  6. Nice series. I am wondering whether the “cinematic feel” in this kind of street photography requires 16:9 ratio and long focal length to work? Would it be possible to be cinematic while using a wide angle?

  7. There is a wonderful narrative built into each photo that Ming presents here. And each photograph has that Ming signature; and i’m not refering to his black border. It is how he post processes and intreprets colours. I’ve tried a few of the ipad videos of mings (a bit pricey, but well worth it if one is serious about interpreting colour). I’ve realizied that I am a mere infantile novice trying to discern and identify that ming quality. Hopefully I’ll have a colour and presentation signature that is uniquely my own.

    • Thanks Jason. I think it’s consistency and use of color to create emotion – have a look at tomorrow’s article…

      As for the iPad videos, you’re getting years of my distilled expertise in a couple of hours…

  8. Reblogged this on 2 Guys Photo and commented:
    I’ve been following photographer Ming Thein for a while, and admire his city photography. Thought you’d enjoy his latest street candids. Ed

  9. Luis Castro Solla says:

    Very nice photos, and also interesting writing, as usual. Any criticism? I often get the feeling that giving titles to photos does not add much to their intrinsic interest – except when you want to make a joke, or give some necessary explanation about what the viewer is seeing. But then I may very well be wrong.

    • Thanks. Generally, I don’t bother with titles unless it’s to give context or explanation – and even then, rarely, because titles and photos too often get separated or influence the impression of the viewer; however, sometimes we can’t take ourselves too seriously…

  10. Great photos, hurry back Ming.

    I am glad to see that just being in New York, NY created an attitude of freedom of expression in you. The absence of your usual regard for the dignity of your subjects is a testimony to the contagiousness of the wide open spirit of the great American experiment.

    • Haha – I’m not sure it’s a lack of dignity so much as there was just a lot of interesting human behaviour going on…

  11. Pretty good!

    • Only ‘pretty’? So what do you think is keeping them from getting more? I’m always curious because the comments are usually very positive, which is great for the ego but not so helpful for artistic development.

      • if I’m allowed to be bruttally critical, my own critism would be that the images and the narrative relies too much on the title. It feels like the sling-shot on an aircraft carrier that launches fighter jets into flight. The jets (your images) would not be able to fly, and perhaps crash into the water, without the titles influencing how I see them.

        • but I realized that many people have already pointed it out. I’m going to put down my stick and stop beating the dead horse. my apologies.

        • Are you sure? Most of the time I don’t use captions…

          • You do use titles occasionally, like the GR and the lightening bolt, or your recent article about the prints. But most of the accusations here are referring to this specific series. The point I was trying to make that the narrative in the photos would be weaker without the captions / titles. My subsequent comment (the horse) was that this has already mentioned (beating with a stick) numerous times in the comments.

  12. Michael says:

    Great shots – you have captured the essence of New Yorkers beautifully. Great colors too. This is my favorite style of photography, it allows the viewer to create their own stories.
    Quick question: are you shooting wide open to get the beautiful bokeh on these shots? If so, are you shooting with a ND filter too?
    (Many apologies if you have covered this elsewhere.)

    • Thanks Michael. I was shooting as close to wide open as possible, but with base ISO of 200 and f1.4 on a bright day, a lot of the time I was at 2 or 2.8.

  13. Martin Fine says:

    A great series! For me as a New Yorker you really capture the gestalt of the city in all its varieties.

  14. street photography…!!! ❤

  15. Good colour – I’d really like to read a blog post where you describe how you work with colours / curves / levels once the images are captured.

    How do you explain what you are doing if someone asks you what you are up to while you are doing street photography?

  16. Dwaine Dibbly says:

    Great shots, and I love the captions. If we can’t find a little humor in the situations of everyday life, we’re doomed to live in despair.

  17. Heraldo Botelho says:

    I like the light and the composition of all of these pictures, and the moment framed, exactly like a frame taken from a movie. Slices of the life in NY, in a very flattering light and mood. A joy to see!

  18. I know you are extremely fond of the OMD EM5 (can’t blame you), the Ricoh GR and all those fabulous Leica lenses. But this particular tour de force (among many such others) clearly demonstrates how well you handle the gear. As usual, enamoured by your shooting / processing style….thank you so much.

    • Thanks. I like to think it has far less to do with the gear than the compositions…at the moment I only have one Leica lens and my GR hasn’t yet arrived…I don’t things will be that different if I used a D3200 and 50/1.8. That doesn’t of course mean we don’t have preferences…

    • Ming, I wasn’t for a moment implying that your amazing photographs were entirely due to you gear; sorry for the badly worded comment. I see the distinctive ‘Ming Thein’ quality spread uniformly across all your photos irrespective of camera make / model or medium, film or digital. Your B&W photographs, especially, have opened my eyes to what B&W ought to look like, and I am proud to say I have managed to copy your processing style to a slight extent in some of my street pics, and openly acknowledge my debt to you.

      • Don’t worry about it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell though, you’d be surprised how many people seem to think whatever I shoot is down to the gear I use – it absolutely isn’t, and I think the level of consistency between images and cameras should say a lot. The fact that my film B&Ws aren’t that different to my digital work says it isn’t the postprocessing, either 🙂

        As for B&W – you may find the intro to PS video useful…

  19. Great shots all of them. Love the captions as well! This gives me inspiration to try to do a 16:9 mode street shots. Love the way the om-d and the leica lens make the images pop.

  20. I like your thoughts and words “I don’t want to use the word ‘stolen’, but it does sometimes feel like one is peering into a pre-coreographed scene and simply borrowing a frame”. Actually, I agree that the photos absolutely express this but I tend to think that your mood was different far away from home. I can see that you felt free and open-minded. Borrowing a frame is possible in any city but being in a foreign country makes it easier. Well done!

  21. Juha Immonen says:

    Really impressive results, especially composition-wise. Is that native ratio in OM-D or are these crops from originals?

  22. Hi Ming,

    nice photos as usual.
    I bet you get lots of reactions out of people when they see you taking their photos…

    • Actually, people hardly ever notice me. And when they do, they usually assume I’m a crazy Japanese tourist – even in my own city. Why convince them otherwise if it lets me shoot in peace?

      • Ming, you said something that perhaps explains that lack of negative reactions from people you had just taken a photo: Hollywood films had set the stereotype of “japanese tourists” always smiling and taking pictures of everything! If you look “japanese”, you are just doing your totally innocent thing. I really don’t get those “nice” looks after taking a candid picture of anyone, specially in those times of violence in the big cities…
        Cheers (and take care) <:ˆ)))

        • I don’t know if it’s possible, but…look less threatening?

          I suppose it’s one instance of racial stereotypes working in my favour…

  23. Great colors and light.

  24. Paul Stokes says:

    Excellent composition and colour. It certainly seems worth the effort to use the Leica 50/1.4 ASPH-M. I don’t doubt using the OM-D is an important part of the equation. Like the captions also.

    • Thanks. The lens renders extremely well on the OM-D, though I don’t know how much of that is due to the optical formula and how much is due to the excellent color response of the OM-D…

  25. Well Shot Ming! Really like the captions.

  26. Vlad Dusil says:

    Critical focus with the manual Lux on the OMD? Hat off to you, especially in such a dynamic environment. Nicely done, Ming.

  27. Great series of photos. I liked most of the captions. One comment: I can’t bring myself to photograph strangers without their permission but that’s me. I think in two cases the captions make me wonder how badly the subject of the photo might be offended by the caption, if not the fact the photo was taken (and published) itself.

    • Thanks Tonio. Generally…not at all, in the past. I suppose it depends on whether the images themselves were good or not…


  1. […] Given how ingrained certain locations are in the popular photographic consciousness due to heavy presentation in a particular style by multiple photographers – Paris and NYC in black and white of course come to mind – I think it’s possible to do one of two things: either avoid that style altogether and try to find your own, or explore a little in the genre and see what falls out. I had a chance to try both the last time I was in New York; to be honest, I found B&W with moderate contrast to suit the timeless feel of the location a bit better – as opposed to expressing the fleetingly temporal nature of life. There’s of course no right or wrong. (My attempt at individual style can be found here, in the NYC cinematics photoessay.) […]

  2. […] at Thephoblographer + 22 quotes on art at JPC + photo essays: SF Monochromes at Ming Thein and New York Cinematics and Sudanese wedding and […]

  3. […] the last couple of posts, we’ve looked at the qualities of bokeh, and some examples of cinematic photography in New York; although one of the most obvious hallmarks of the cinematic style is an abundance of very out of […]

%d bloggers like this: