Photoessay: New York City urbanscapes

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I honestly have no idea what category or genre this kind of photography falls into; it’s not quite abstract because you know what the subject is, though there’s heavy reliance on geometry, form, color and light; it’s not street even though it’s generally shot on the street or from the street; I suppose it could be travel, though they don’t really especially make you want to go visit a place. Flaneur, perhaps; the exploring observer. Or still life, except there are frequently moving elements. It’s not really cityscape or architecture either, because often there are no buildings, or they’re not complete, or the view isn’t wide enough to be considered an entire cityscape.

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I suppose I just like to think of them as urbanscapes; little stage vignettes that are interesting in and of their own right, and may or may not be improved with the garnishing of people for context. In any case, it’s the very abstraction of shape and form into pure geometry that catches my attention; topped off with the correct light for an aesthetically strong presentation. I seem to be doing more and more of these on my recent travels…might not be commercially viable, but at least it is satisfying – and overlaid with the objective of capturing a little of the essence of the place, I think plenty challenging, too. MT

This series was shot earlier in the year during my time in New York City, with an Olympus OM-D and Panasonic 14-42 X pancake zoom. The Olympus OM-D is available here (B&H, Amazon) and the Panasonic 14-42 X here (B&H, Amazon)

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Enter the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards here – there’s US$35,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, it’s open to all ASEAN residents, and I’m the head judge! Entries close 31 October 2013.


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


  1. Ken Niles says:

    Hello Ming,

    I continue to be impressed not only with the quality of your photographic vision but even more with how your pictures look after processing (I purchased a print of your Airplane/Sky shot). I shoot an OM-D and an 800 and tho I’ve been working professionally since my long ago photojournalist days I can’t rival the “quality” of your prints. Thus said, I am wondering if you would share some of your workflow techniques with us. (Maybe you’ve already done this and I missed it.) Your recent portfolio, New York City Urbanscapes, is quite good. Would you… could you… give us some ideas of how you handled the post processing – including sharpening? For instance, the working of the blue sky (last print in particular) is terrific.

    In advance, Thanks!


    Ken Niles Photography Yellowstone Park, MT/WYO

  2. Nice Post. It’s really a excellent article. I noticed all your important points. Thanks

  3. carlusant says:

    adoro fotos assim. Muito show o detalhe das gruas no alto do prédio!

  4. Really nice shots. I also find myself gravitating towards this type of photography. Number 2 especially reminds me of a picture I took a couple of years ago:

  5. “Abstract Concrete”
    pun intended

  6. Very nice work Ming! The compositions and ideas seem to be the next level beyond the “isolate your subject” kind of compositions which seem bare in comparison. I like how the geometry of the various shapes in the pictures echo each other in a kind of conversation. The frame is filled but still organized, so it’s purposefully busy and not random.

    The airplane in the 1st picture is a provocative element in a picture of the 1 World Trade Center. Was that intentional?

    I also found #7 funny for the way the building just pops up over the freeway, but the whole thing is still well-balanced. It’s the kind of element that makes me wish I could more easily see things like that.

    The triangular pictures (car reflection and the upside down stairs) are another example of that, and really exploits the 2D nature of film well. I keep thinking pie charts — maybe an echo from your consulting days? 😉

    Thanks for the salve from looking at the pictures of my daily Instagram and Facebook feeds!

    • Thanks Andre. Yes, the plane was intentional; had to wait a bit til one came along though – there were a lot of flight paths overhead, but none that suited my composition!

      Aargh pie charts! We were actually forbidden from using them…something about not fitting consulting stereotypes or some rubbish like that. 🙂

  7. Hi Ming,

    photography needs no genres.
    I find no. 4 and no. 9 are quite nice. Rest is rather unispiring to me. By the way: no. 5 is upside down.


  8. In your first picture the airliner punctuated a beautiful image.
    Did you have to wait very long for a plane to come into view?
    Your NYC impressions here are superb.

  9. James Leahy says:

    Hi Ming, good evening, do you know what rig Bill Cunningham is using to shoot his stuff ?

    • This is the four time you’ve asked, and the fourth time I’m saying I have no idea.

    • Tom Liles says:

      Not sure I should do this but while my coffee gets me going –> satisfied?
      [It gets even more on the nose if you just type “what camera does Bill Cunningham use?” into Google]

      — Nikon FM2
      — A Nikon digital body, 30 seconds on google => probably a D40x. It doesn’t matter to be frank: Mr Cunningham’s photos are not about equipment, they are about his subjects. Same as the Satorialist. Expose well and make your subject look good = done deal.
      — apparently only ever one lens –> 50mm focal length: what looks like a Nikon AF-D, probably the f/1.4. I’ll let you just go find out for yourself what all the terms and model names mean.
      (and what will happen when you mount an AF-D on a slimmed down modern digital body, like a D40x)

      James, on the film side, the model and make of film body is really irrelevant, more or less: they are just light-tight boxes for holding film straight, exposing it with a shutter and winding it on. I’m not sure why you want to know what Mr Cunningham uses, but if it’s along the lines of getting the same equipment in the hopes of getting the same photos, I’m not sure you need to be *that* bothered about equipment (if a B. Cunningham style image is what you’re after). If it is this — wanting to emulate — and you want to get a film body, keep the first line of this para in mind: get one that holds film right, winds OK and the shutter isn’t broken on — and if you’re really going to use it a lot, one that feels good to you — rather than one with tons of specs that people tell you to buy or that Bill Cunningham uses –> FE2, FM2, F100, F, F2, FA, F4, etc, etc., it doesn’t really matter… and it doesn’t have to be Nikon by any means. The photos that B. Cunningham takes could be done with almost anything, to keep it simple all you have to be aware of is keeping the field of view [I won’t explain] the same—but, just to reiterate, his photos are all about the people he finds. I think he’d be the first to tell you that.

      So, the lens — and not even its optics at that — is all that’s important to you equipment wise –> pay attention to the field of view.

      More usefully: find some interesting people.

      (If you get a film body and simply must emulate every last detail, you’ll have to find out — for yourself now — what film he uses. I doubt he really pays attention to it.)

      Why was it that you wanted to know what rig he uses?

  10. Linda Rankin says:

    I don’t know what the genre is, but you are showing beauty in what is often missed around us. Thank you for brightening my morning. Linda

  11. Gerard Hilinski says:

    Wonderful photo essay. Weell done Ming!

  12. I know what the genre is, its called good photography😊

  13. I think you defined the genre quite nicely. Thaks.

  14. tiingtsong says:

    #5 is a lovely abstract.

  15. Ming, these are excellent and beautiful. As for what they are, I believe they belong to the genre known as “photography”.

    Keep up the good work.

  16. Just spent five minutes looking at the fifth shot, it is the kind of thing I absolutely love but don’t always have an eye for myself.

  17. 5th picture is the best! i can make myself see the stairs going up or down without turning my head… nice shot, ming… 😀

  18. Beautiful, Thanks

  19. Reblogueó esto en LeoAr Photography / Lex Ariasy comentado:
    Una impresionante muestra de arquitectura..

  20. I’d say close to 70% of my past year photos fall into this category. Part me being a exploring observer and very much because of your inspiration. Thanks for upping my game with composition, balance and making clean images.
    I especially liked two and three. Three just because the straight on perspective, interesting light and texture. Two is just fantastic, simple, beautiful form and absence of distractions.
    On eight, I often play with lampposts – photographically, composing them to frame another object, usually buildings. Would have been my first shot from that location..

  21. Daniel Sandström says:

    For the last year or so, it seems 70% of my photos fall in this category. I recon it’s the exploring observer in me; but I also suspect your blog have had a big positive influence on my style. Since, I have been enjoying making geometry, well balanced and clean pictures.
    Especially liked two and three. I’m fond of the simple straight on approach in three. And number two, it’s just so well composed and free of distractions, calm. On eight, I often like to play with lampposts – photographically. Composing them to frame an object, usually building. Just recognized the potential for a second picture in that one.

  22. Interesting pondering about genres – and fine photographs! (Re-blogged.)

  23. Stephen Scharf says:

    I don’t have a problem with thinking of them as cityscapes…

  24. Tom Liles says:

    Spectacular. Looking at the last picture prompts the often occurring thought: there’s just something about the blue of an East Coast blue sky.
    [I appreciate you may have enhanced the blue via HSL or WB or both. And I still think the above. The photography on the Ridley Scott film UNSTOPPABLE really brought it out well, too]

    • Replicating the exact shade of sky blue has been a minor obsession of mine for some time now…glad it’s paying off!

      • Tom Liles says:

        Sky blue that isn’t gaudy and cartoonish [for more see the Sigma WB setting Foveon Sky Blue] is a real mission. I can never quite put my finger on it — and this is on screen viewing not prints, so take it with a pinch of salt — but in my case I often find with my subjects white balanced right, skies can come off a bit yellow—there isn’t that sharp, fresh blueness to them.

        I’m wondering if some of that isn’t just smog. Have you run into this with pictures in KL, Ming? As for here, anyone who’s scaled Tokyo tower or our new one, Tokyo Sky Tree, will know, but there’s an orangey-yellow smog blanket over Tokyo most of the time. It’s a wonder we can breath at all, really.

        WB set for tungsten, CTO the flash and snap a strobed portrait outside => cheap trick, but you get a rich blue sky for sure.
        [Skin tones can get a bit Ken Rockwell, though]

        If I remember Oculus correctly you got an amazing hue for the sky in that one. Might be a good photoessay for us sometime: Sky Blue Sketches. It’ll be tough trying to beat these though—I like the orange roadworks tent against the carriageway: I’m not quite sure I’ve seen this taste from you much before, Ming. Reminds me of Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore. And it’s close to the taste we saw from a couple of photographers Gordon introduced the other day [I can’t go back to check; this is just noodling on the train home]; but I do remember Gordon mentioning they were both heavily influenced by the imagery in advertising –> focused, propositioning… Mmm, will look forward to seeing more of these.

        And now to my book 🙂

        • Latitude and pollution definitely affect the reproduction; that said, I’ve always been lucky enough to have fantastic blue skies in Tokyo.

          As for my skies personally: I do take care to color correct the blues, as well as shoot at the right times of day for the latitude to get the color right…

  25. Reblogged this on Muutoksen syke – Pulse of Change and commented:
    Ming Thein is one of my favorite photo bloggers. He has often inspiring topics and always top notch photographs. In this blog I liked his considerations about different photography gategories and genres, and of course the pictures.

  26. pictures are awesome Ming!

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