Photoessay: Autumn in Tokyo

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Today’s photoessay is a very special one for me: firstly because I’ve always wanted to photograph in Japan in the Autumn because of the extremely vivid colours and semi-perfected nature*; secondly, because photographing them was a very meditative and pleasant experience for me. I’ve actually never had the chance to shoot unhindered, unhurried, and unencumbered in this way before; I had the luxury of sitting, looking and just feeling the scene and the light before photographing; sometimes for hours. As a result, I was in a very different – not to be cliched, but ‘zen’ is a pretty apt description here – state of mind when creating these; as a result, they’re quite different to my usual work. In addition, the first six images in this set will go into the first ever ultra print run – to be announced in the next day or so. You’ll be able to experience these images in a way that puts you in the scene, with detail that’s immersive and colour that’s both transparent and saturated. All of these images were shot under ideal conditions, too – medium format digital back, great lenses at optimum apertures, base ISO on a tripod – which means image quality is really about as good as it gets. In all honesty, an 800-pixel jpeg doesn’t even come close – but such are the limits of the internet. I really don’t have anything else to add other than please enjoy! MT

*All of these images were shot in gardens and parks around Tokyo – the Rikyugien Garden, the Nezu Museum Garden, and the Edo Open-Air Architectural Museum. You may recognise some of them from the How To See Ep.2: Tokyo video – I discuss their creation and composition in significantly more detail there.

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


  1. WOW!

  2. knickerhawk says:

    These remind me very much of the Eliot Porter prints that line the hall outside my office (part of our corporate art collection). More of your shots are backlit than his, but you do a good job of isolating some specific aspects of the trees and fallen leaves like Porter did. That’s not easy to accomplish.

    • Thank you – what I tend to find is that because of the frequency of detail in these scenes, it’s very difficult to retain that 3-D feel and sense of depth you get in the actual scene; the angle of light has to be just right, and very subtle DOF control is also required.

  3. Next Oct. you should come to either Vermont or New Hampshire and maybe take a detour to Acadia National Park in Maine. Maybe the best fall colors in the world? Colorado with it’s Aspens aren’t too shabby either. At least that’s what Ansel Adams thought with his B & W photo.

  4. Wonderful clarity and tones, Ming!
    Hopefully I will be able to see these places personally soon, but from this side of the screen I doubt there are more transparent representations of the beauty and serenity of those parks than your images!

    • Thank you. I can of course bring you the experience in the form of the ultraprints…several of these images are available in the current print run.

  5. Peter Boender says:

    It was gorgeous! Thanks Ming for pointing out the gardens. I told you I was going out there to shoot some “greens” (as in plant life), but you told me to go shoot some “reds”. You were absolutely right! What a wonderful day! Note: would have provided a link to my Flickr set of Rikugien Gardens, but that’s not allowed… 😦

  6. Sooper series – great job mate

  7. Beautiful images….love the light and the depth and especially love the reflections – zen it was : ))

  8. Very pleasingly attractive. Thank you!

  9. Hello Ming, very very nice series and beautiful colors. I have a question regarding the use of a tripod for this series. I do not know of course, how much light was available, but assuming enough to set the aperrture and shutter speed as you want. Does it make any difference then to use a tripod in term of image quality ?

    • Not enough light to shoot handheld – medium format ISO 50 and f16 means anywhere from 1/5-1/20s. And even if you manage 1/100s, you’ll still see camera shake. The pixel density per degree FOV is too high not to use the tripod unless you can manage 1/3x focal length or higher…

  10. Incredible series, Ming.

  11. Laxman Mestry says:

    Beautiful pictures. Please visit such places frequently for giving us more nature photography 🙂

  12. Kathleen says:

    Layers of beauty Moments in time still vivid Points of light refined

  13. great set of photos, ming. really love the composition and colours in the photos. you are absolutely right, the koyo in japan is stunningly scenic and colourful, especially in the well tended temples’ gardens/parks and mountains. we had a family holiday in kyoto last autumn to coincide with the renowned kyoto koyo and we were amply rewarded – it was koyo extravaganza. i wrote a short WP post of it here . as it was a family holiday and we had a schedule to adhere to, i did not have the time to ‘zen’ it out and get myself totally immersed into the scenes – it would have been nice if i did 😉 . hope you can spare some time to visit, your frank critique most welcome. – the bad and the good (if any).
    enjoy the rest of the weekend – may be tough with the pervading haze and water disruptions.

  14. Wow really great set Ming – and perfect for your new invention. Just hoping that it’s not outside my price range as they have got to be gorgeous.

  15. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Aah, trees …
    Seing the limbs of a tree curve upwards … you sense the life in them.
    And so hard to catch without disturbing fore- or background …

    The openness of a park instead of the crowdedness of a forest?
    Plus the Japanese art of creating parks much more alive than European ones. (Not been there though.)
    … plus Ming Thein … 🙂

    This time I find it very hard to pick favourites.
    Some are classics, but with your choice of light and composition, they are special.

    I find them all a (different) balance of excitement and harmony.
    They all pull you in and let you immerse yourself in them…
    They are all lovely.

    Even so, some have a special appeal to me:
    Nr 2, an intriguing mixture of sky and water …
    Nr 3, you want to sit down with your back to the tree and (imagine that you) feel the tree grow.
    Nr 5, as a piece of art.
    Nr 8, the personality of the tree.
    Nr 13, the striving, curving branches (emphasized by the light).
    Nr 16, needles and leaves contrasting (in war or peace?).
    Nr 17, light creating depth.

    • Thank you! I always got the feeling that Japanese parks were a lot more ‘ordered’ than European ones, even if they are deliberately trying to project a feeling of natural chaos…I wanted to give hints of that underlying structure somehow.

  16. Beautiful colors, very pleasing composition.

  17. Beautiful, intense colours!

  18. Wow. Especially those shots of the reflections in the ponds are mesmerizing!

  19. A work of genius!

  20. The colours are just remarkable Ming. I’m very sure these are even more remarkable in print.

    • Thanks Eugene. Actually, reds/ oranges have always been a challenge for inkjet print until recently; even so, we ran quite a number of proofs to ensure the final images are spot on to my monitor.

  21. Impressive to see someone pulling together such a difficult topic. Would be nice to see these in person (prints).

  22. Iskabibble says:

    Wonderful series. Some of these scream for Acros treatment.

    • Possibly, but autumn just wouldn’t feel the same in mono…

    • No!
      All the subtly, yet vibrant notes, colour textures, sorry – this is no B+W set. IMHO of course.
      I love these, very much. Can get lost dreaming amongst the shapes.
      Thank you, Ming. Art is beautiful.

  23. Reblogged this on Styron's Photos and commented:
    Simple but beautiful

  24. Wonderful Series! THis is a very memorable part of how to see EP2. It is very reflective and also very helpful for nature and garden photography.

  25. Very enjoyable series – 1, 2 & 3 are my favourites. Are there many people wandering about in the gardens/parks or was it all pretty quiet?

    • Quiet in the mornings, busier by noon and crazy at lunch. Several of these will go into the inaugural Ultraprint sale…

      • I guess this would be a perfect way to spending lunch time to de-stress!

        Quality of light is obviously important, but did you find there was a particular time that worked best or is light generally better later in the afternoon as in Europe?

        Will definitely look forward to the sale, i believe I’ve promised somewhere along the lines to grab a Hasselblad print….

        • Except you’d be more stressed with the crowds, I think. In winter at higher latitudes, the quality of light is excellent throughout the day – the sun never shines from fully overhead, so you can literally shoot so long as there’s light.

          • Ah, thanks for the insight on the light. Yes fair point with crowds – I remember a summer internship where we actually had some decent weather, the parks around us were rammed at lunch time, the last place I ended up wanting to be…..

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