FD Photoessay: Life in Amsterdam

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Sometimes, the film photography gods deign to make life easy for you: you happen to be in the right place at the right time, with the right light, interesting subjects, lots of opportunities, carrying the right camera and lens combination, just enough film to get you through a day with a roll left over as insurance, and even airport security guards who’ll hand check your film so they don’t have to make multiple passes through x-ray machines. The last European trip and workshop tour was one of those occasions for me. I went with my usual small digitals (OM-D, Ricoh GR) for teaching, and the Hasselblad 501C with one magazine, a few boxes of Acros 100, and the 80/2.8*. And I came back with a huge number of keepers. It’s interesting to note that despite its size, shutter noise and conspicuity, the Hasselblad never attracted negative attention – usually curiosity or nostalgia. In that sense, it’s actually an excellent street photography tool in the modern age. No more words are required, I think – other than for me to say ‘enjoy!’ MT

*Some of the rolls were pushed to ISO 200 due to lack of light; with Acros this also has the benefit of deepening your shadow tones. There doesn’t seem to be any grain penalty that I can discern, though – anything up to ISO 800 is fine, but the shadows just keep getting denser and denser. Digitized with a D800E, 60/2.8 macro and my custom rig.

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  1. How surprised I was, when a friend told me he had spotted me on this weblog! I’m the man carrying the baby on pic. no. 6, waiting for my two year old son to get up again. See, as matter of proof, this pic of my son (made by this friend of mine who notified me): http://www.pronkphoto.com/feestsjoerddorothea#2 and on the next picture, that’s me.

    Chances are one out of a million that a follower of your weblog recognizes one of your subjects, I suppose. But it is an honour. Thanks!
    And by the way, great pictures. I like them, as in: that is my subjective, uninformed amateur opionion 🙂 But from what I understand from the above, that is not a bad thing at all.

    • Oh wow – that’s an extremely unlikely coincidence indeed (but turns out, the second time it’s happened – another one was a photo of a friend’s father!)

      Based on the latest stats, it’s actually about 1 in 50,000 – but I get the sentiment 🙂

      Drop me an email with your address and I’ll send over a higher res version.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      You are lucky man. I would love to have a portrait of me did it by Ming Thien. Cheers !

  2. As always, technically well executed with full control and thought illustrated in the compositions. Beautiful tonality. Nothing “soulless” here, and as I have said before, to consistently distill the essence of potentially chaotic scenes the way you do is illustration that there is indeed “soul” at work. Are they my favourite MT shots? No…so what? Do I think all of your future images will be reworks of the same exact presentation? A look through your past images and writings would tend to suggest “no”, evolution and refinement through reiteration is likely. So Mr Babsky doesn’t like where you are at with your ‘Blad/Acros evolution…fair enough, but my advice would be to continue on the journey and see where it takes us all. I have no problems with his opinion, but take great offense at his belligerence and arrogance, which is not, in my opinion, merely the way it comes across due to the textual nature of the communication. No one has the right to demand anything of you, and to do so reflects poorly on them. You have no obligation to engage in the game he wants to play, and I respect your attempt to politely decline and move on. Probably just as well for Mr Babsky, as an attempt at reciprocity might be embarrassing for him given what I am seeing on a Google image search with his name…

    I know you don’t need me, or anyone else, to speak up in your defense, Ming, nor do you need me to tell you to “ignore the non-constructive criticism and do your thing”. Usually I wouldn’t try and “feed the troll” but I really did not take kindly to having my morning routine spoiled with such immaturity…apologies for losing my cool!

    • Thanks Ian. I think you weren’t the only one. I’m fine with subjectivity – ‘I don’t like’ is not the same as ‘you are wrong’. But anyway, yes, let’s not feed the trolls!

      I will continue to do as I have done: shoot and show what I’m happy with.

  3. Hello,
    I have a 501 cm at the bottom of the closet, and your photos make me want to take him out.
    I do not have a scanner and I look forward to your next information on your system scan. I want to equip myself.
    Thank you very much for your explanations
    I do not speak enough English to participate in your workshops, it is a regret.

  4. robbiesdailyplanet says:

    In a few words…truly amazing photography and I’ll be following.

  5. Hello Ming. I really enjoyed these photos. I had a quick question for you (my apologies if it has already been asked). You had mentioned before that the Hasselblad I’d next to impossible to shoot handheld and you also shoot at ISO100 and 200. Did you use a tripod while making these photos? Also, are you just metering by feel these days?

    • Thanks. No, I didn’t – the shutter speeds were marginal at times (1/60s; okay for film but not digital backs). ISO 200 usually let me hit 1/250s or thereabouts. In any case, if it was that dark, generally the light was pretty flat and not conducive to good images anyway 🙂

      Yes, metering by feel – I still carry the VC Meter II as ‘insurance’, but most of the time I’ll take one reading at the start of the day, and constantly be adjusting throughout.

  6. Photos are bloody unreal. They have almost 3D look to them. Is it a characteristic of the lens or the way you use a lens or both or something completely different. Street photography is hard work as I have found out recently so doing it with something as big as hasselbald is quite impressive.

    • A bit of everything – the way medium format renders a given angle of view due to the longer real focal lengths, choice of subject/background relationship, and the way you process your film…

  7. Sergey Landesman says:

    Ming,are you planning to sell any of photos from this collection?

    • Good question. I would imagine pictures of random strangers aren’t the kind of thing most people would buy to hang?

      However, prints are always available if you’re interested 🙂

  8. “For some odd reason, vintage cameras make people happy…” While I was in a coffee shop testing the Leica Monochrom that I received to see if I really wanted to keep it and pay the price (used! Yes, there’s hope; used ones are coming.), someone asked me to take their picture with their cell phone. Of course, I had to ask them how you could possibly take a photo with a phone. Ha. Immediately afterwards one of them exclaimed “Oh my, an old film camera!” I never thought of her as happy, but now that you mention it, she was happy to see it. Needless to say, the odds of keeping the camera went up after hearing that, and then later finally seeing some of the images on my home monitor, corrected in photoshop, of course (absolutely required). I kept getting keepers from the beginning so I ended up keeping it and sending in my M9 to sell in order to pay for it. Okay, the satisfy the one who manages the budget in our house.

    • I think I’ve solved your problem. You need to write them off as a business expense…but of course that assumes business that’s photographic in the first place…

  9. Hoi Ming, as always the “analogue” noise in your pictures feels quantized differently, in comparison to digital linear and “soft” noise i get from sony 16 mpix sensor.
    thanks indeed for the experience 🙂

  10. Nice images…love the fingerprint of the Hasselblad, nice and smooth with great “pop”

  11. Some great images here…love the fingerprint of the Hasselblad, nice and smooth with great “pop” ! 🙂


  12. As a person who’s shot color and B/W for years, in many different formats, I can say that this is a fine set of images. I especially like the row of people along the canal, and the way the man’s shoulder in the lower right corner matches the shape of the walkway beyond.

    There’s a remarkable sense of dimension and depth to some of these images, the result of subtle DOF control along with expert handling of the lighting. You should be proud of these.

    As for the criticism, I was amused by the inference that shooting a ‘Blad was tantamount to shooting in B/W, as if there was no color film available to choose from. Your choice of Acros film is a specific creative decision, and your choice holds up well given the fine results obtained.


    • Well, I *was* pleased with these, considered the possibility that I made a grave error somewhere – entirely possible – and have come to the conclusion that I still should be, and am. Blad images need not be square, or B&W – but that format and color suits the subject, I think. I also use the Blad with Provia and the 645 digital back…though frankly I could have also used the OM-D set to square. Compositionally, nothing would have changed, but the rendering wouldn’t be quite as subtle or tonally pleasing…

  13. I find that ALL these pictures are so enjoyable to view, brilliant black and whites, they deserved to be print out for exhibitions.

  14. Ming, I love the lighting in all of these, but especially Cafe de Pels and 8040356, where it looks a little overcast. The softness of the lighting in those two is different than your usual pictures in the tropics — was that how it came off the negative, or did you do some dodge and burn on those? The figures in Cafe de Pels is also an interesting arrangement, as is the line geometry of 8040371.

    • That’s because it *was* rather overcast most of the time; the quality of the light appears different because it very much is a function of the latitude you’re at. Further emphasized here by the tall-ish buildings and the gaps of sky creating a softbox effect…the tropics are far harsher. I’ve done almost nothing with the negatives.

  15. Terrific work. I especially like the couple seated in the restaurant. When I go out with my Yashica TLR I often get looks, but more along the lines of people smiling at the camera and curious about such an antique, it’s always positive attention from the people who do notice. Many don’t.

    • Thank you. I know I don’t get the same reaction from the DSLRs…that in itself makes it worth using, I think. For some odd reason, vintage cameras make people happy…

  16. Yes I am also very interested in the camera/digitizer for my Hasselblad/D800E black and white negs. Its all waiting here for your machine to arrive!

  17. Are you any closer to marketing the camera/digitizer? Maybe give us a hint if it doesn’t jeopardize your legal claim.

    • Closer, yes. Close, not so much. It’s a device to hold camera, film and flash, and advance film in a perpendicular way to the sensor plane. Manufacturing tolerances are the issue; there are ways to do it for larger runs, but I don’t anticipate this thing being that popular – it’s a niche device – so we’re trying to keep the costs reasonable, too. I thought it’d take at most two prototypes; we’re on #6 now. I want to do it right the first time, or not at all.

  18. Hi Ming,

    I’ve been meaning to ask for some time now… Do you use mirror lock on the Hasselblad? Thanks!

  19. Good captures, Ming!

    Question – but please don’t take this the wrong way. Being a Dutchman, I am just curious about your experience in Holland:

    In Holland, we tend to quite dislike strangers meddling in our lives: even taking pictures. And taking photographs of random Dutchmen might get one some hefty and sometimes even nasty responses. On the other hand, we are quite used to and okay with Asian tourists (somehow always stereotyped as Japanese) seemingly taking pictures of almost everything they encounter.

    I realize I generalize a here, but what were your experiences photographing people/doing street photography in Amsterdam (being Asian, but no tourist, deliberately photographing people, in Holland)?

    • No problems whatsoever. If I was noticed, I just waved and smiled. People waved back, most were curious about the Hasselblad. Everybody was friendly. (Maybe it was because the sun came out for those few days!)

      I find that this technique actually works regardless of where you are, but then again, as you say – I’m usually mistaken for a Japanese tourist. I admit that I do nothing to dispel that notion; it’s easier for people to believe what they want to believe than have you correct them.

      My underlying theory is that strangers expect hostility when they confront you, or you confront them; when they get friendliness instead, it’s disarming. And it works because it appeals to our basic need for human companionship.

  20. Sergey Landesman says:

    These photos are very interesting to me,and I always admire your great talent! I have learn a lot from you and hopefully will continue to learn much more. Every person entitle to an opinion and like you sad:somebody may dislike taste of an orange.
    Congratulation again on a good series.



  21. Michael Matthews says:

    Here’s one vote for keeping detailed discourse on subjective values out of the photo essay presentations. You show what you like. It resonates or it doesn’t. Otherwise the conversation degenerates into something akin to wine babble.

  22. These are great photos. I don’t understand the comment from the gentleman who thought that you had “lost the plot.” I don’t know whether you and I would agree, but I find in each photo strong compositional elements as well as intriguing questions about the human subjects.

    MT, I suspect that some people respond negatively to your street photography precisely because of its technical excellence. I look at these photos as being bravura performances–and some people find it difficult to applaud bravura performances.

    Of course, I wish that I could shoot with a quarter of the skill that you bring to your photography. But I’m not going to hold your brilliance against you! Instead, I’m just going to try to learn everything that I can from you.

    • Thank you. I thought these were a bit ‘looser’ than what I normally do – deliberately, for the sake of experimentation and attempting to put some soul back in – so whilst I’m happy with the result, I don’t think they have the precision of my regular work.

      Each person has their opinions, which is fine, but when they start to turn subjectively irrational, rude and accusatory that’s a bit too much to take. I just want to make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with disliking something; we just need to realize that it’s a personal bias.

      Still, I admit I’m relieved that the images aren’t a total disaster 🙂

      • Well, MT, what you consider “loose” is what I’d consider “technical brilliance”!

        Horace wrote it long ago: De gustibus non est disputandum. And it’s true that if I say, “I just don’t like it,” the subject is ended. No one can tell me that I have to like it.

        But we do have a vocabulary that allows us to discuss many aesthetic issues in meaningful ways. If someone says, “This photograph lacks any focal point,” I can say, using objective criteria, that I disagree. I can point to an area of critical sharpness; to the areas of highest tonal contrast; to the areas of highest color contrast (blue to orange, red to green, yellow to purple).

        I may not like the decisions that you made. But I can at least observe that you made certain decisions.

        I have never had the sense that you took out a camera and started shooting, willy-nilly. In each of your photos I see clear evidence that you were thinking about the scene in front of you.

        I am fascinated for at least a couple of reasons: (1) Your technical skills are superb. Each of your photos tells me that you’re in command of your instrument. (2) Your compositional decisions are not the ordinary decisions one might make. I have no doubt that you are not trying to be another Bresson or Maier or Adams or Evans or whomever we might name. You are instead choosing to be the One and Only Ming Thein.

        And even if I didn’t really like the aesthetic decisions made by the One and Only Ming Thein, I’d still salute you for that decision. After all, we’ve already had our Adams and our Arbus and our Stieglitz and our Evans and our Ray and our . . . Just name ’em.

        You’re the One and Only Ming Thein. Hats off, my man. Maybe your work will live forever. Maybe it won’t. But I know and you know and the American people know and every god-damned person in the world knows that your work won’t live for more than a few years after your death if you’re doing nothing more than mimicking other artists or trying merely to please your public.

        I think that this particular rant has ended. Keep it up, MT.

        • “… your work won’t live for more than a few years after your death if you’re doing nothing more than mimicking other artists or trying merely to please your public.”

          Hear hear. And precisely why the more I think about it, the less it matters whether anybody likes it or not but you, as the creator: so long as you think it has legs, then you will continue to develop and evolve it. And eliciting strong emotions either way is a good thing because it means the work is in mind…

  23. Ming,

    Ironically I too have come to love the square format. I shoot with a D800e and I’m getting pretty good at framing the image in camera with the crop in mind.

    For what it’s worth I’m also a fan of B&W. For most images I take will look at them in the channels layer to see what they would look like in B&W. (I could set up the LCD to show the B&W but I prefer to review my images on the computer.) My eye is getting better, but I am still surprised by how much more interesting many landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes are in B&W.

    I’ve actually acquired a Hasselblad 503CW and it has become my “go to” camera for an afternoon shoot. Of course when I see what your “eye” produces, it’s a bit discouraging but also aspirational. I hope you will continue to add to the film diaries. I’ll bet there would be significant interest in a film workshop. Maybe you could stay a few days after one of your regular workshops to conduct a separate film workshop the next time you’re in the USA.

    • Look for contrast and shadows; it’s worked well for me.

      As for film workshops: I’m not sure they make sense because the feedback cycle is too slow, unless we’re somewhere with 1h labs or I bring the chemicals, tanks and scanning gear with me. That said, some of my students also bring film cameras with them…

  24. Hi Ming, Please could you clarify for me the reason for shooting film then processing through a D800E. I am guessing that if you wanted to make a fine print you would have the option of the traditional wet process. Otherwise would shooting with the D800E instead of the Hblad not produce as good results, OR is it that you just love to use the Hasselblad? Apologies if you have already explained this….

    • Film has a nonlinear response curve that I can’t duplicate with digital. Scanning the negatives with the D800e gives me the best tradeoff between speed/ quality/ resolution and the digital printing process gives control and repeatability, some not so easy with an optical print.

      • Maciej Grodzicki says:

        I have thought about this quite a lot. If your analog negative response is non linear, wouldn’t a d800 “scan” linearize it in turn, negating the advantage?

        In my personal experience says that doesnt seem to be necessarily the case, but my rational part keeps telling me that I might be fooling myself.

        • You would think so, but no. It’s counterintuitive but film scanned with the D800 looks very different to the same scene photographed directly. I believe it’s to do with how the input tonal range is allocated to the output – film takes a very wide range and records it on a medium that when scanned, is within the ability of the D800 to reproduce; the scene itself is outside that. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t bother with film given how convoluted and time consuming the workflow is…

  25. Jorge Balarin says:

    Thank you for the great photos.

  26. A bit humorous that someone wants a more specific justification for “I like . . . ” If you listed all the a,b,c’s of why you liked the person you married it would never quite add up to, or clearly explain why, and someone you know can probably give you a list of x, y, and z’s why you shouldn’t. So, a useless exercise. I’ve tried to photograph Amsterdam myself more than once and never came back quite satisfied enough (“like” again). Assuming that I’ve learned something since then, I’d like to go back and try again. One can learn from the keepers that someone shares with you, including and especially the one’s Ming just shared. They give you ideas you’ve not had before. Like? Explain why it broke my heart to sell my Leica M6 film camera to buy the MM. You have to put it in your hands and shoot with it yourself, and even then you wouldn’t be able to say why exactly. Glad that someone already mentioned Steve McCurry in this context. He may be the best pure color photographer working today, if you go just by the way he chooses and selects the objects with color. But looking at his web site yesterday–to learn more about b&w, believe it or not–I realized that the first 8 or so out of 10 color photos on his blog have no (zero) white “colors” in them, and in some no (zero) black. That means it would be useless to turn them into black and white photos which excel with black and white “anchors” on both ends of beautiful shades of grey in between. This is why Ansel Adams failed in Hawaii–to much red, green and blue there–and ended up taking his presumably “most liked” photos in a cemetery. Believe it or not. A French painter followed Gauguin to Tahiti and when he got off in Hawaii he proclaimed that the colors were far too rich for him and he took the next ship back to France. I can only look at McCurry’s great color photos–which I envy–for a little while before I feel like I’m eating sugar on top of honey. Does that explain my “likes”?

    • ‘This is why Ansel Adams failed in Hawaii–to much red, green and blue there–and ended up taking his presumably “most liked” photos in a cemetery.’

      That’s a very good point: I struggle with tropical landscapes in monochrome, mostly because a) there’s a lot of green, and very little luminance variation in it; b) sun angle is almost always vertical, which means even less luminance variation. It simply doesn’t work.

      Europe, on the other hand, is – to me, at any rate – always old, desaturated, a little faded, somewhat timeless, with angled light/ sun, and this is perfect for B&W work…

  27. Nice pictures, as always. I was in Amsterdam a couple of years back, and it’s a fine place to shoot. My shots aren’t quite as good as yours though! (that’s British understatement: they’re not even close!)

    I’m interested in the choice (in two or three photos) to have an out-of-focus person or element in the foreground. This is something I haven’t yet been able to work out as a photographic technique. I saw an amazing picture by Steve McCurry of some Shaolin monks training, and one of them was more or less literally bouncing off a wall. It was a superb picture, but there was the head of a monk, out of focus, in the bottom of the frame. Now, Steve McCurry being Steve McCurry, there must be no chance of that being an accident, so I figure he must have put it in there on purpose.

    Similarly, with the picture of the man walking and reading a newspaper in front of what is presumably an “adult shop”, the man is clearly out of focus and the background is sharp. This was presumably a conscious decision to draw attention to the window and the contents of it, yet the blurred man somehow bothers me.

    What’s the photographic thinking behind this? (Asking, certainly not criticising!)

    • Haha!

      That didn’t come across as criticism at all, don’t worry. In short, yes: the OOF foreground was/is a conscious choice on my part. Sometimes because I want to have the idea of ‘a human/ a person’ as opposed to a specific individual; I don’t want the expression of that individual to detract from the greater scene. The first image, for instance, is supposed to draw your eye to the background, ignoring the person, then coming back to him trying to make the connection between that passing glance of reality and the lap dancing club in the background…

      On top of that, non-identifiable people means you don’t need model releases for certain applications 🙂

      These are all better a bit larger so you can see the details, but alas not everybody is running 2560x1440px 27″ monitors…

  28. Taildraggin says:

    Film: When it’s good, it’s better. Printing them would be better still (and I’ll defend to the death that 36mp is adequate for Flickr postings). Nice images. Best stuff you’ve shown recently.

    Square turns most subjects into ‘portraits’ – including landscapes. It presents a single message more deeply and a bit differently. It may be same effect on our perception as cropping, which means it encourages better framing? Dunno. I just like the look and have more Lifetime Best Keeper with it.

    • Oh hell, an iphone is more than adequate for Flickr. I don’t even upload anything larger than about 1200px because of copyright and bandwidth issues.

  29. Steve Jones says:

    David, mind if I chip in here with a few thoughts about these images? You said that they had lost the dimension of color. I consider myself someone who ‘sees’ in color (which is probably why my black and white shots are not very remarkable! ) but i have to say, i mean,It seems fairly obvious, but I think once you make a conscious decision to shoot black and white color is not a concern. More likely you are looking at the contrasts of light and dark and this is the very reason some people like to take photos without color. You are not ‘losing’ anything but deliberately eliminating it by choice to focus on other aspects. To be honest, looking at these, can you say how they would be better with the added dimension of color? Honestly, I don’t feel that color would do anything to make them better images.
    Black and white seems to be a very appropriate choice here I think. Also concerning the random strangers. i don’t feel there is anything random in the selection of the subjects. I would say that Ming has carefully observed the strangers and tripped the shutter only when finding an interesting group. For example, in the first shot three of the figures are sitting up. one lays down and the eye is immediately drawn to that. if all four had been sitting up it probably would not have been a good image. You might take twenty or so pictures of fish swimming in a pond ( about as random as you can get ) but probably only one of those pictures will have all the fish in an interesting arrangement, That’s the image you’re looking for. And if you really look, there is something interesting in most of these shots here.( i admit i think the shot of the woman with the phone is the least interesting but that’s just one of the set). The others are very nicely observed indeed. I like them. When i look at this set of photos it makes me realize that i pass by scenes like this all the time without stopping to look, much less take a picture.I have a Leica book somewhere with pictures taken with Leica rangefinders. In it there are some pictures of empty streets. No color, no people. You might think there is no reason to take those pictures. Yet there is something very fascinating about the careful composition of those pictures, the play of shadows on cobblestones for example, that makes them quite memorable.
    You probably wouldn’t like those much either.But that’s ok. We all like and dislike different things and have different opinions. I think it’s fine that you shared yours. Your choice of words might not have been the best.
    For example. I don’t think the square format ever made a slave of any photographer as far as i know. It was just another option.
    In fact, it freed a lot of photographers from the tyranny of the rectangle back in the ’60’s.

  30. A few days ago, I read the comment thread under your New York street shots, which critiqued your work as clinical, soulless or whatever. I suspect it reflects a deeper philosophical debate that Nietzsche raised in the Birth of Tragedy, which was carried on in Hermann Hesse’s novels (and is evident in that recent film Black Swan etc) so it stuck in my mind.

    Anyway, to my untrained eye, the people who wrote in that thread are thoughtless if they think their observations apply to at least half of the images here. For example, the second and fifth are wonderful. While ‘you’ may be absent in the second photo the warmth between the four subjects is the aspect that is most immediately obvious to me (and it’s also a scene I can easily relate to from my own life). This applies to the fifth where the old man is looking right at. Given these moments are so impeccably timed, I don’t understand why someone would see them as soulless (given the timing is all about you). Indeed, I would think it would be much easier to get a keeper in a situation where the subject was aware of you (and able to react in way that would make an acceptable photograph [as most people do when they have a camera pointed at them]).

    Sometime I react really strongly to your photos and sometime I instantly forget them, I imagine this is a sign you are good because all of that street stuff the guy pointed out in the other thread looks like the same stuff that pops up in my Instagram feed everyday (which I nearly always instantly forget).

    Anyway, as a newbie, your site is my favourite resource on the web (and I’ve read a lot). And thanks for writing back to me post the other day (I should thank the other guy that helped out too).


  31. I agree with your observation that a camera like a Hasselblad “relaxes” subjects. They show interest in it and let you take a picture of them.

  32. superbe série de photos 🙂 congrats

  33. David Babsky says:

    For what it’s worth – and my opinion may be worth very little – I think you’ve lost the plot since you got your Hasselblad. The last shot (reflections) is the only one which appeals to me: the others appear to be just random shots of strangers.

    I don’t get along with square format very well – I don’t know “where” to look, compared with rectangular shots.

    If the woman-with-a-phone were cropped to remove the bottom fuzzy bit, and thus became rectangular, I’d find it a far more pleasing composition. What does the bottom blur presently give to the picture? ..nothing, for me.

    You appear to have become a slave to the square format, and to an apparently enjoyable “clunkiness” of the camera, and to a lack of colour.

    I much preferred your older photo essays, such as this one of Tokyo: https://blog.mingthein.com/2012/12/12/photoessay-tokyo-reflections/

    The square format loses – for me – the dynamism of those, and your pics have lost the dimension of colour.

    Maybe that vertical out-of-focus post, in the last one, above, splits the picture into rectangles, and also gives my eye some resting place, from which I can explore the rest of the photo.

    But otherwise; no: there seems to have been no reason to have shot these photos. Sorry, Ming, you’ve lost me. You seem to have lost your search for textures, angles and entertaining trompe l’oeil, too.

    • ‘I don’t get along with square format very well – I don’t know “where” to look, compared with rectangular shots.’

      But I do; even if perhaps you think I’ve become a slave to it and a lack of color 🙂 That generally happens when you use black and white film, by the way.

      I’m certainly getting the feeling that you don’t like the direction my work is evolving in. In which case I’ll thank you for your opinion and contributions to the site thus far, and remind you that readership is both free and entirely voluntary.

      Each to his own: you might not like these, but I do; I can’t seem to satisfy everybody – either I’ve got too much clinical precision or too little. It only further confirms that a) I’ll shoot what I please, since nobody is paying me to do it; and b) making sure I am pleased with the output is the sole arbiter.

      • David Babsky says:

        Yes, but you don’t say why you like them.

        “..I’ll shoot what I please, since nobody is paying me to do it..”

        But – splutter, splutter! – people do pay you to teach them; to teach them what you “see” in a possible photo. And I just can’t see what it is that these pictures – except for the last one – are supposed to be showing me, or teaching me.

        Maybe I have to pay first, and then you’ll explain.

        • I don’t need to justify why I like them to you, David, or anybody else. I choose to share or not to share, just as you choose to view or not to view. If they offend your artistic sensibilities that much, then please delete your bookmarks and don’t bother coming back.

          Nobody is paying me to take these images. Stop deliberately taking my words out of context.

          People have the ability to decide for themselves if they would like to learn how I make my images or not. I have never claimed that my way of seeing is the best or only way. You also seem to forget that images like these represent a very small portion of my work. If I’m not permitted to experiment, I’m sure you’d probably find some way of accusing me of creative stagnation.

          Besides, I’m not trying to teach you anything – that is clearly impossible as I’ve ‘lost it’.

          Lastly, David, jealousy is very unbecoming of you. I would have thought that somebody who clearly knows all there is to know about photography would be far more magnanimous than that.

          • David Babsky says:

            “Jealousy”? ..I’m not jealous, Ming.

            And I certainly don’t know “..all there is to know about photography”. Not by a long chalk!

            It just seems odd that you aren’t prepared to say what’s special to you about these pictures, or what about them gives you pleasure or satisfaction. I’m not asking for “justification”, just explanation.

            If you’d prefer not to have a discussion with me – though I thought that’s what this Discussion section is for – and you want me to go away and not post any comments, then I’ll do that. Praise, you accept. Questions, not.

            “..and don’t bother coming back.” Wow.

            • The way you write indicates you are a person of considered thought and intelligence, so one can only assume that you are aware of this. You have asked for justifications of why I like something repeatedly in the past; I’ve given you the same answer.

              You are not asking for a question, you are asking for a quantitative justification for a subjective, irrational question. Repeatedly. Why does a person like/dislike the flavour of an orange? Why does a person like/dislike the way a person looks? A particular scene? There is no right/wrong answer to any of these questions. Any reasons given are equally subjective and valid only for the person answering: you might like the grass in the landscape. Other people who hate grass would find that argument meaningless. Equally valid with images.

              I value objective criticism because it opens up opportunities for improvement; I may or may not agree with it. Subjective criticism is usually not useful at all, because some people might like oranges; others might not.

              Sarcastic comments like “Maybe I have to pay first, and then you’ll explain.” are uncalled for. There are 1.5 million words in 650+ articles on this site where I explain for free about many things. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that, or taken it for granted.

              Put some skin in the game, David. I’m willing to, at least 18,000 times according to the number of images I have online. I generally take people at face value, but the images and words online with your name and style of writing on them – right here – lead me to think again.

    • David, why don’t you randomly shoot at strangers and compare your results to those of Ming. You will see your assumption is quite far from reality….


    • Slave to square format? C’mon, David, if Ming is showing us something, then that he is *not* bound to a particular format, style, camera … whatever. I enjoy most, if not all, of his work, and if you don’t, just wait for the next photo essay.

    • …and when I looked through the photos, in the one of the woman-with-the-phone, the “fuzzy bit” at the bottom absolutely made the shot, for me. It is just an emotional response, but it can be analysed: it closes the frame, it provides a sense of separation, it reinforces the idea that the woman is not “there” but rather in phone-space. Etc, etc.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      I like very much the square format, and I like specially the pic of the women with the “fuzzy bit” bottom. That bottom involves the viewer with the scene. By the moment Ming is experimenting very much with black and white and medium format photography, of course that doesn’t mean that he will not do anymore photos in colour.

  34. Hi MT. Great set, the opening shot is very cool. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on how these b&w images from D800E scanned negatives would differ from images made by scanning a traditional print made from the same negs…apart from the hassle of being in a darkroom.

    • You’re adding an extra stage of tonal variability/ control in between – the printing. Definitely different, maybe better, maybe worse. Hard to say.

      • yeah…maybe both! I have printed B&W and colour professionally and miss the days of holding up a large fibre based print and seeing into the shadows. I think you are onto something with this method though. Best of both worlds? Would be interesting to compare a 40″x40″ print from each method. I for one love the square format, so many great photographers have used it – Ansel Adams, Avedon Annie Liebowitz and that’s just the A’s, I sold my ‘blad kit ten years ago but these images are making me look at repurchasing a kit.

        • I honestly don’t know if the 6x6s would hold up to 40×40″; 30×30″ looks good, but if you’ve got fine detail, the acuity starts to wane above that.

          Glad to hear you don’t think I’ve lost the plot with the ‘blad… 🙂

  35. Great photos! What I don’t understand: Why don’t you shoot directly with the D8ooE, instead of using it as a „scanner”?
    Is it, because you want to have the negative as your backup medium? Or do you produce classical prints for exhibitions on silver gelatine photo paper? Or do you just prefer the Hasselblads 6×6 format? Best regards from Germany

    • It’s the tonal response. Film and digital are still completely different, and there’s no way you can get a 45mm FOV to render like an 80mm – that’s only possible with a larger capture area.

  36. OK. I know that we have had our differences, and I probably (well, certainly) went overboard in trying to prove my point about “magnification ratios” and “depth of field” – for which I apologise … I still believe I was right in the technicalities, but I wasn’t right in getting so emotionally involved and making it personal. As I said, those were “technicalities”, and they are ultimately not very important. One thing I will say (which has always been clear to me), is that you are a damn fine photographer … maybe that is why I was so frustrated. I honestly wish I could take photos like yours …

  37. Black and white also contains colors…

  38. Reblogueó esto en LeoAr Photography / Lex Ariasy comentado:
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  39. ron@rongreene.com says:

    Please show use how you put together you custom rig for turning film into digital.

    • It’ll go up for sale once it’s ready; manufacturing is proving more of a headache than first expected. We’ll do it right, or not at all.

  40. Good stuff !!!

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