Photoessay: recent iPhone work

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Today’s post is a small collection of recent work – I suppose a better description is grab shots encountered in the course of life when I didn’t have another camera available to me. I make no excuses for the medium; the work stands on its own. It’s to serve as a reminder that the camera really doesn’t matter. Enjoy! MT

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For those of you who’d like to learn a bit more about my process when working with limited equipment, you might like to have a look at the Compact Camera Masterclass video. Combined with the Introduction to Photoshop, you’ll be surprised just how much can be accomplished; all of the images in this post were made following the techniques covered in both of those videos.

And no, I don’t use filters or apps.

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


  1. hi ming thein, i am very impress by your `clean and sharpness’ of your photos, may i know how you do it? i mean, no matter you use iphone or dslr, every photo of yours also looks sharp… thank you.

  2. Hey I guess someone’s gotta ask… Any chance you could put up some original jpg’s? OK, what about one, your pick? I purchased your first PS video, and this is selling me the 2nd… 😉

    • No. Unfortunately, I cannot release full/ original files because nobody online seems to respect IP, which means anything that I might want to make a print of or use commercially later has instantly zero value if I do. Too many images stolen in the past – even small ones.

  3. James Dorlo says:

    What method do you use to batch export all of your photos with the black border and your name?

  4. Really like the entire set. The first on is haunting me. simply sublime.

  5. Nice one!

  6. Linda Rankin says:

    It’s not the particular camera or Photoshop, it’s the eye and mind that recognizes the subject. The tools just help you fine tune the picture. I see the strong line in all of the pictures. You can do pretty well with an iPhone and improve it with Photoshop, but if there is no subject to start with it doesn’t matter. Once agin your pictures me to try something new. Thank you.

  7. This was inspirational! I’m going to be a driving event tomorrow running in and out of cars, so lugging something like the E-M1 is out of the question, but I’ve just charged up my old Canon SD800, and put it into its belt holster Ming-style ready for tomorrow!

    • Enjoy – which cars?

      • The BMW club in America has a program that teaches teenage drivers emergency driving skills in their own cars. My two students yesterday had a 2000 Civic (with no ABS, so we worked on threshold braking skills) and a Ford Crown Victoria. In the past, I’ve had students with a Prius and a Toyota Siena minivan. The Siena was probably the most surprisingly good vehicle I’ve been in. The Prius was just hilariously bad.

        Tom, I remember seeing Ming deploy the GR from its holster in the first outstanding images video, and it really impressed me, like seeing a chef handle a kitchen knife. It all looked so effortless and efficient!

        • My wife just had a Toyota Vios loan car while the other one was in the workshop, and I never heard any end of it…we are spoiled by the way the European cars handle most of the time. I drove it on Saturday to return it and pick up the other car; it felt like it had plenty of power in reserve, but the tip-in of the accelerator pedal and gearing was such that you were probably at 80% throttle within the first few degrees of pedal travel. The steering wheel didn’t do anything up to 15 deg off axis in either direction, and when it moved, the car would lurch from lane to lane. In some ways, it feels out of control, in others it feels like you’ve got plenty in reserve. Then you try to merge from a junction or overtake, and…nothing. I suppose it’s to give the impression of being fun and on the limits even though you’re only doing 30mph, but surely that can’t be right…

          If I was a larger chap I could holster the ‘Blad 😛

    • I’ve seen the holster in action. No, let me qualify, I’ve seen the action, then the holster—that order. MT is the real deal 😮

      I honestly didn’t realize he had it on him, until the GR was already out, focus locked and pointing at something. Malaysia’s real-world answer to Leo DiCaprio’s fictional “Kid” in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD [great film. Why did Gene Hackman have to retire? Miss him. Though that’s a classy move…]

  8. Jorge Balarin says:

    I would like to see what you can do with a “Barbie” camera : ) Greetings !

  9. hans-joachim Benndorf says:

    Jeez, I just bought a Pentax K3 for my ltd. primes. Maybe I should have upgraded my old I phone 4. Never liked the images out the I phone. Things may have changed. Great pics.

    • Phone cameras have definitely come a long way in the last few years…

      • Iskabibble says:

        Which is why the camera industry is in an enormous crisis. Phone sales are through the room while camera sales are in serious decline. Olympus, Panasonic, Ricoh, Fujifilm, Sony (!), and maybe Sigma are losing millions of dollars every quarter, not making a profit. At all. Canon and Nikon are watching their profits get smaller and smaller. Nikon’s stock was the WORST performing stock in the Nikkei 225 this year. Imagine what the camera world will be like if this trend continues another 5 years. What will be left?

        • I find it hard to believe that it will get to the point where we have no cameras – market economics/ demand will make it worthwhile again when there’s almost nobody left – but you’re probably right in that we might well go through a phase of firstly stagnation in innovation (check, happening now) then the brands slowly dying one by one (check again). I wonder whether this is true of all consumer industries though. There’s only so much X a consumer needs/ can afford/ is willing to pay for.

          • Iskabibble says:

            Right. I dont think cameras will ever disappear, but they will get more expensive and with fewer choices. Ironically that’s just like film today, more expensive and less emulsions available. Digital’s victory over film might end up being a pyrrhic victory.

            • New film cameras are more expensive with fewer choices. But second hand top-of-the-line cameras are now very, very affordable indeed. The only problem with digital is that the hardware is unlikely to last long enough to reach that point…

              • Iskabibble says:

                I meant actual film (and film processing) getting more expensive, not film cameras.

                • Ah yes, my bad. But the dynamics of this are interesting in themselves – as the big boys exit for lack of scale/ volume, niche players are starting up…it’s as though the whole industry’s life cycle is beginning again.

  10. Reblogged this on saturn1ascends.

  11. Michael Werner says:

    I knew it! It’s just this mingthein plug-in for photoshop!

    But seriously, excellent pictures as always.
    In terms of technical quality I was shocked myself when I started using a recent iPhone occasionally. And the depth of field achievable with it makes it so much more forgiving to my challenges in focusing properly.

  12. Michael Matthews says:

    This series should cure me of gear lust for all time. Unfortunately, what it tells me is that I really, really NEED an iPhone 5.

  13. Lovely

    Have you printed or exposed any iPhone pictures?

  14. What were you ‘seeing’ in the bus photo? I think I can see the point of all the others, but the bus photo doesn’t seem to have any interest for me.

  15. This set of images proves that the frozen moment is in the eye and “vision” of the photographer–well done.

  16. Samuel Fifer says:

    Great illustration that blaming your camera for bad pictures is usually bogus.

  17. I’m shocked and horrified that you haven’t used a Leica and a Nocti (wide open) for these shots!

    Spending thousands is the most important thing, after all.

  18. How good is iPhone in getting the colors true to original?

    • Not very good. Part of the problem is the limited gamut of the sRGB output, part of the problem is the very small pixels…a lot of correction is required.

      • Hi Ming, very good images. You’ve done a great job managing the limited exposure range on such a small sensor.

        Just noted your comment re colour-space sRGB: would you would recommend shooting in something like AdobeRGB? I think I tried it once on my camera (Sony RX100) but can’t say I noticed any improvement … unless there’s more steps I need to follow during post?

        You also mention “a lot of [colour] correction is required”. Is this something like 10, 20, 30 or more mins per image? I remember a while back Ctein (via TOP) produced an image on his Olympus P3 to demonstrate how capable the camera was. He casually mentioned he spent 2 hours (!) working up the image in PS.

        • Thanks. Yes, capture in the widest gamut possible. I covered that already in this article. You won’t notice a difference if a) you’re not shooting things that might go out of gamut; b) your output device isn’t calibrated or doesn’t have the required tonal range; c) you’re not doing heavy postprocessing.

          ‘A lot’ for me is perhaps two minutes. Normal images take me 30s to 1min to process. If I spent two hours on an image – assuming it didn’t require commercial-grade retouching – then I’d still be processing stuff from three years ago.

          • Interesting point on time taken by you to process images. 30s to 1 min is quite fast!! Is it because you have developed some presets which you reuse on most images?

            • No, because I have enough experience to shoot to produce the raw material I need to produce the end result which I’ve already previsualized at the time of capture. That, and I’ve honed my workflow over the last ten years to the point that I know exactly what I need to do to get the result I want. I cover this in the Intro to PS video.

              • Hats off to you for being able to previsualize the tones and micro tones of the image at the time of capture! Very impressive ability indeed and it shows up very well in the pictures.

  19. Hey Ming – I am thankful for the opportunity to expand my photography knowledge and skills through your generous sharing 🙂

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  20. I was thinking along the same lines regarding equipment. It really doesn’t matter, the best camera is the one you have with you.

  21. Nice!! If you had told me these had been shot on medium format film, I would have believed you (well, at least before inspecting them at full res on Flickr).

    This seems like a great demonstration of one’s shooting technique and processing workflow transcending the capture device.

    • Actually, since I never upload larger than about 1500px wide, close inspection on Flickr would have seen the illusion maintained 🙂

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        …unless the grain in the shadows of fairly well lit scenes indicate a very small sensor?
        – – –

        One _does_ want to have a camera handy when one finds a scene where composition in both shapes, colour and texture (and light) can be made to come all together and enhance each other.
        I’m thinking of the first photo, and also of the cups and plate.

        But who positioned the flowerpot so precisely in the right place on the pattern of the tiles? 😉

        • If you’re pushing the shadow DR, then yes, I agree. I’m punishing the files way beyond their limits, I think.

          I got lucky with the flowerpot. It was already there. If I’m shooting casually with a phone, there’s no way I’m going to bother with repositioning subjects…

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            Well, I didn’t really think you did! 🙂
            It’s only, the pot sits so right in the square pattern.
            ( Imagine shifting it just a couple of cm… )

  22. It’s obvious that you’re using a filter…it’s called MingThein’o’gram….it makes all your photos look like a Ming Thein’s photos..


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  2. […] rather than equipment and allowing a more candid set of photographs. Check out my Instagram feed or Ming Thein’s iPhone work for some photos that look great despite being a smartphone […]

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