FD Photoessay: Amsterdam architecture, part one

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No words today, just a series of images for you to enjoy. Various architectural details from my last trip to Amsterdam, shot with the Hasselblad 501C, 80/2.8 CF T* on Fuji Acros. Some of you may recognize these images from the November print sale; others may be enjoying a large print on their walls 🙂 MT

These images were made during the October 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop in Amsterdam; I will be holding three more of these in Melbourne, Sydney and London later this year. Click here for more info, and to sign up.

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2014 Making Outstanding Images Workshops: Melbourne, Sydney and London – click here for more information and to book!


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


  1. Leandro Gemetro says:

    Cool set man! I really liked it.
    What happened with that post of “Being a photographer is an attitude?”

  2. Ming, wishing you a great time with large format. Are you going to do nature landscape photography also with your large format camera? Or mainly architecture? Weegee did street photography with large format and I would not be surprised if you innovate on that front as well.

  3. The brick walls provide some absolutely amazing texture…it’s quite mezmerizing in black and white.

  4. Great pictures from the capital of my country!

  5. The quality is nice. Very good tones. Composition is ok. Outstanding? Not so much.

    • Some things do not work so well at web sizes.

      Id be interested to know why they don’t work for you, though?

      • Just fairly uninteresting in general. Technically, great…but they look like tourist snaps with a Hasselblad. I like the geometry in some of them, and #3 captures the vibe of the City quite nicely. (I lived in Amsterdam for a few years…love it) I imagine they would be more interesting as huge prints when you can get close and take in the detail. But…Outstanding?

        Please…I mean no offense, I do enjoy reading your website. I feel like there is way too much ego stroking going on yours and similar sites (Steve Huff, Thorsten etc.) Outstanding, to me are some of the Magnum photographers….great pictures that really grab you. It takes more than technical ability and composition. Again, Im not trying to be an internet jerk…just being real.

        • I’ve posted close to four thousand images on this site. I don’t mind if people take exception or don’t agree with a few; photography is highly subjective. I am NOT trying to be a Magnum photographer, and you’ll notice they almost never photograph static objects, either: it’s like saying Usain Bolt can’t swim so he’s crap.

          Ego stroking? Well, it’s MY site. I put in a huge amount of effort to provide content for free to the general – and it seems in some cases, ungrateful – public. That’s time I could spend billing clients or doing work that pays. This site has 750 articles and 1.7 million words of content accessible and free. I reply every message and email I get, which usually number 300-400 per day; even from rude jerks who seem to think I owe them everything for nothing and exist solely for their pleasure. Forgive me if I do a little self promotion, because I’m sure as hell not going to do all that work and promote somebody else – and I’m sure neither you nor anybody else would, either.

          But, being real? Accusing me of being egotistical after sharing pretty much all of my technique and then having the cheek to compare me to hipster idiots who run everything through a filter IS frankly insulting, reduces your credibility, and squarely puts you in the category you were trying to avoid. I don’t see you giving anything back to the online community, either.

  6. Ron Scubadiver says:

    Nice set. Some of them make me think of San Antonio with its river walk waterways and many foot bridges. I reread your A7R review and now I absolutely don’t want one. I am continuing to search for a backup camera.

  7. These are wonderful! I love all the detail. 🙂

  8. Ming, which 4×5 camera are you getting?

  9. impressive set of B&W’s.

  10. Perfect composition, congratulations!

  11. roadtraveleradmin says:

    All great, but #3 with the bridge and shadow really ‘struck’ me.


  12. Hi Ming
    I have just recently found your website and I now follow it daily. These are a superb set of images which I enjoyed viewing very much. I was wondering if you add much sharpening to your photos during your workflow and if you downsize first prior to sharpening for web viewing. Many thanks.

    • Thanks. I sharpen the full size files, though increasingly less (and sometimes not at all with cameras that have no AA filter, to avoid artefacts). I do not sharpen after downsizing as you don’t need to assuming you start off with a file that’s perfectly sharp at the pixel level to begin with. This set was shot with film, and has some minor sharpening applied to the full size files after the scanning step.

  13. Frans Moquette says:

    Wow Ming! I work in Amsterdam and frequently take a walk on my lunch break. Your images remind me that we often take things that surround us for granted and forget there are so many beatifull things close by. We just need an Asian photographer to remind us! 😉
    My favorite is the image of the bridge casting a shadow on to the other side of the canal, extending it as if it goes al the way down into the water. Can you tell me what street and time you took this one?

    • Thanks. I don’t member the time, but it was near the north end of the Kaisergracht I think.

      • That small bridge is crossing the Brouwersgracht when you come from the Herengracht. Amsterdam is such a photogenic city and I try get there a couple times a year.

        Your photographs somehow echo the craftsmanship of the Dutch Golden Age with enormous emphasize on details. A bit too much for my taste, but then I have always been more a Johannes Vermeer type.

        • Thanks for nailing down the location. I admit I got lost and confused quite often by the near-identical looking canals, and just navigated with a compass instead 🙂

          For all of the craftsmanship of the golden age, I think they could have used a plumb line or two!

  14. Mats Abrahamsson says:

    Since I was born and live in Göteborg (Sweden) I am glad to see that Hasselblad, made in Göteborg, still is a marvelous tool for making pictures!

  15. #5 for me. Great.

    I always pay mad attention to and get the biggest hints from your framing Ming. With an 80mm on the SQ-A, or a 50 on the F2, or 25 on the DMC-L1, etc., I’d never have the sense to frame them so in the pocket as you do. Have the guts to cut a tree off part way because it’s better that way. I’m still too much of a beginner to know what looks good, is all…

    That’s why these essays are great hints. Not to outright copy and be satisfied with leaving it at that; to copy or to think about, and to go from there.

    I’m know what I’m doing on next week’s lunchbreaks now 🙂

    • Haha, thanks Tom.

      Cutoff points: just make sure you don’t truncate (haha) at a point where there is detail being cut off, this avoiding your viewer’s eyes being drawn out of the edge of the frame at that point…

  16. Doug Howk says:

    I especially liked those that some would declare as too busy, eg looking across the canal with footbridge on left. It pulls you into the picture and the detail encourages you to explore the scene. Beautiful work!

  17. Hi Ming from France, i really appreciate your photowork here again. Could you please remember me your own workflow on B&W numerisation ? Thanks.

    • Err, that’s not exactly straightforward as it involves film, hand development, scanning and some tidying up in PS.

      • jeanmarcschwartz says:

        I mean, are you to use able to a scanner or a DSLR for the numerisation ?

        • I use a D800E, macro lens and film holding/ advancing rig of my own design. I will be selling these eventually…once I get a chance to test the final prototypes.

          • Fred Mueller says:

            So you take a picture of the negative with the 800e ?? Would be very interested to know your workflow.

            That’s how I have been “scanning” old family slides for quite a few years now. (I also copy old photo albums by just shooting the 4x5s still mounted – with two 5000k 40 w. bulbs in desk lamps) Picked up a Nikon ES-1 slide copier about 6 years ago and it goes nicely on a Micro Nikkor 55mm 1/3.5 AI which I found on E Bay at the same time – even though I still have a Coolscan 5000 (too slow for volume, only use for certain special shots). I use my light table as the light source. It all goes quickly.

            I made the unfortunate decision years ago to trade a 501 / 50mm / 80mm for the first decent digital I owned (a G6). I knew then it was probably a mistake; I really feel it now.

            I enjoy your site so much Ming …

            • Yes, I’ll cover that in a future post. You can’t use the E-S1 for medium format though.

              • Fred Mueller says:

                Yes, of course, I know that !

                I was just somewhat surprised to hear these were not actual scans. The business of just using our modern cameras to digitize film seems so obvious to me. You have done it so well here, no doubt a really good reason for owning an 800e.

                • Fred Mueller says:

                  BTW I have thought for a long time that the very best way to “digitize” B&W film would be to wet print (@ about 8×10) and then scan (traditional scanner @ 1200 dpi) as printing is still about the best way I know to capture/reveal the full dynamic range of film, which then transfers quite readily without dynamic range constraints to digital via a good flatbed.

                  You however do not seem to be having much trouble with plugged shadows or blow highlights in your process here. Impressive

                  • I think the print scanning method is a bit like using a JPEG: you’ve already set the tonal information at the time of printing; there’s more information recoverable in the negative, but not the print. If the negative is well lit, I don’t find dynamic range to be an issue – film itself is a nice nonlinear conversion medium to take you from about 20 stops (B&W negative) to ~13-14 (D800E raw file) and then again down to 7-8 output stops…

                • I would still be scanning now if I used a flatbed! 🙂

                  However, large format will require one, I think…a good 6×6 negative slightly exceeds what the D800E can do in square crop; 4×5 will go far beyond and defeat the point of using it if you don’t get the most out of the negative.

            • Fred Mueller says:

              ps – for me #5 is great – really a kind of abstract

  18. hans-joachim Benndorf says:

    I can’t help but like Your style of processing. Sharp, contrasty and bordering on super realism with almost surreal light that makes simple things look interesting. Great use of filters gives a recognisable signature. Enjoyable.

    • Thank you, but FILTERS?!! I hope you mean red/yellow for tonal control. I NEVER use any digital filters, that is outsourcing half the creative process to the software. These images were shot on film and developed individually by hand.

      • “These images were shot on film and developed individually by hand.”

        That’s interesting! How did you develop each frame individually? Doesn’t the entire roll go thru same course of development?

        • Sorry, that wasn’t well-worded: each roll, of course.

          You can develop each frame *effectively* individually if you stand develop, but that requires a lot of time and a very precise amount of developer.

  19. Your Black and White processing reminds me of that of Nick Brandt’s work. Pleasing to the eye and not overly contrasting. The tonal gradation is very smooth.

    Thanks for these – they look remarkable.

    The more I look around the net – the more I appreciate the value of your work. Plenty of photography gear websites around but not many on actual photography.


    • Thanks! Lots of experimentation and refining the process…

      • Actually the gradation does look a bit harsh to me, particularly in the darker regions of skies (when will the photo and IT industries finally agree on a 48b JPG replacement?!) Also, some strange vertical stripes in the sky of photos/mingthein/10717176503 – as though the negative may not have dried evenly. Still, very nice to see my place of birth depicted in your strong and well-balanced trademark compositions, and I admire how you’ve managed to capture this wide variety of architectural styles in a cohesive photographic style of your own.

        • It’s the jpeg compression creating posterisation in the very subtle tonal gradations. They’re not there in the full size original.

          • I know Ming, and it’s hard if not impossible to avoid with some photos. That’s why we should get rid of JPG! Superior alternatives have long been available (eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JPEG_XR) but nobody is demanding them and that’s why we’re still displaying our images using a technology from the prehistory of digital imaging. It’s really a shame; implementation in cameras and browsers should be fairly cheap and technically trivial, and yet would offer us the greatest possible advance in image quality. The JPG format was good enough for the low dynamic range computer screens of 1995, but its glaring shortcomings are exposed in ever greater clarity on today’s monitors.

            • I completely agree. But like most standards…it’s probably still around because it supports the worst/ bare minimum. There isn’t much point in sharing LZW TIFFs if most of us don’t have the bandwidth, for example.

              The other issue is that we may not always want to share something higher quality because of image theft issues and the dishonest few who spoil it for everybody else…

              • Well, with JPEG XR or similar technology, that LZW TIFF quality, or something approaching it closely, would fit the size of a regular JPG today. Grainless skies, richly detailed shadows and highlights, smooth natural skin tones, we could have all that within approximately the same bandwidth that we’re consuming today.
                So please Ming, whenever you review a new camera here, no matter how good it is, give it a big ‘minus’ for not supporting any modern file formats!! 🙂 Hopefully the industry will get the message some day..

                As for theft prevention, I think that’s more of a ‘resolution’ issue than a ‘bit depth’ issue, although the two are connected. However, with future file formats, it would be possible to add advanced authentication features (using public/private key cryptography), for instance to protect the file’s integrity or to limit distribution to approved websites, but I’m not aware of any such features being worked on today. I guess pro photogs aren’t represented in the committees that decide on new file formats. Anyway, with that, people could still edit images and republish them as their own, but they’d be more quickly exposed, shamed and sued for doing so.

                • You’d be surprised how many big companies use unlicensed images. Pro photogs have almost no voice because the legal system on ‘grey’ IP issues in any country is almost always biased towards the one with the more expensive lawyers…

  20. Beautiful pictures indeed Ming! Can’t wait for you to show us images from your new old 4×5.

    • I’m going to need a lens and film first. Oh yeah, and the camera needs to arrive…

      • Which 4×5 camera are you getting?
        What lens are you getting for it?
        Are there any Zeiss lenses for 4×5 or are you getting a Rodenstock or Schneider lens?
        What film?

        • Taildraggin says:

          You will wonder why you have wasted time with ‘miniature’ formats so long. The crummiest LF lenses are still pretty good – it’s the transitions and depth of LF that make it stand out and while it obviously scans better, you will not see much of it from flickr.

          (Acros is the best black or white film out there… 😉

  21. I like the diversity of the images style, every picture looks different. That makes it a pleasure to watch the pictures as a series.

  22. Très belle série 🙂

  23. The second picture of the bridge – truly outstanding.

  24. iskabibble says:

    What can be said other than LONG LIVE Acros!

    Fujifilm really should commission you for some Acros ads. It’s really miserable how little know this amazing film is. I feel that if Fujifilm actually wanted to sell more they could do so with a reasonably well designed marketing campaign.

    Well done.

    • Thanks – I doubt that’s ever going to happen given that it seems Fuji is pretty much killing off film slowly…

      • And not even slowly: two price hikes and one film stock discontinuation announcement in the year since I picked photography up. If they kill the color reversal films, as word on the street has it that they’d like to, that’ll be it for slide. Unless this new Kodak-Lomo thing can reincarnate Ektachrome or something…

        I think, I like to believe, there is still a sliver of old-time Japanese “customer is God” thinking left somewhere at Fujifilm, because even if it’s a minority, there are plenty of Grandads here that would be up in arms if Fujifilm wound up the photographic film business unit.

        Plus, the company is called “Fujifilm.”
        It’d be hard to kill the product which made them their mark in the world. The corporates would have to be mad.

        Oh wait…

        • You now, I called Fujifilm here in Malaysia some time ago with the intention to bulk-buy Acros – only to be told by the person on the other end of the phone that the they’re no idea what it was. Name-making of not, I do not know how much longer film has…

          • Tom Liles says:

            Don’t know whether to laugh or cry :S

            I think film would be reinvigorated in a minute if:

            1) labs and photo-shops stopped charging exorbitant and silly prices for scans
            That are often of terrible quality; just negs put in a rack, slammed in an automated machine and written to CD. End. For any cost-benefit analysis types out there that might argue it costs for staff to lovingly tend to each frame, or companies to develop better scanners and data recognition and auto color reversal software, and it doesn’t make sense; I’d offer exactly the same arguments back, then point, and say there goes the reason they have almost no customers, generate none, and never will. Film use [and therefore sales] would be invigorated in a minute if scanning were treated as part of development. It should be a zero yen free service tagged on. You take your C-41 or E-6 in, hand them over, come back the next day or later that day, whatever, hand your money over [this must be in the 2-3 dollar range]: you get developed negatives in a sleeve, plus a CD, gratis, of those negatives, scanned to high quality at 3200dpi—-and at your choice of jpeg, 16bit TIFF, whatever [these are just options in a dialog when scanned… that labs charge more for 16bpc TIFF, etc., is scandalous in my view. Yes, that’s more information so the bean-counting know-nothings demand a higher price is charged… but the computer — not any staff or member of an organization — did all the work in writing that data—it’s a zero yen delta, in the real world, just an option in a dialog and plain extortion to charge more for it. To start arguing write times may be longer for heavier data and wear and tear and electric bills, disqualifies the speaker from having any actual interest in the photography business: its goods and services—and that’s a shame for what it is.]

            2) Some balls to try (1), to stick to (1) and talk about it.
            Film is still made and sold. How many photographic film ads have you seen recently? I haven’t seen one. Not a single one. Even on specialist photography sites I go to. They’re not even trying to communicate — and say “here we are! Film is alive!” — with their core constituency. People who work for the maker don’t even know the brands, it carries etc. Never mind J.Q Public. I see yet another attempt by Polaroid to do an instant camera is on the way: I feel like I want to throttle the people responsible. Ok, these types have had their go [and royally f—ed the business up]. Why not let people like us loose, call some shots, with the brand? I bet you any one of our community could come up with something better and more interesting and worthwhile to pep up the Polaroid brand than yet another digital instant camera [aka., tone deaf, short sighted branding f–k up #3047]…

            I’m in full on curmudgeon mode today 😮

            • Hi Tom, I like your thought process here! But discs are going to disappear soon, especially as streaming 4k gets a foothold in the marketplace with the new codecs like h.265. What about a company that does something like you state but goes with full social media and cloud integration (private and/or public facing) straight from the scanning step?

              With various blogs showing the higher digitization quality from the camera and macro lens combo over even drum scanners, maybe the business could do everything turn key and build a fully integrated process including building a fixed sensor platform with interchangeable lens mounts for different lenses and systems as well as a diversity of post processing presets to complement the straight RAW files and the negatives? It could have a very boutique and custom feel yet still be built to function in a very automated and streamlined way.

  25. Wonderful Shots Ming! I really like the set.

  26. Beautiful pictures—always a pleasure!


  1. […] one from part one – part two focuses on the little touches that add character to a building, and if done well, […]

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