You probably weren’t expecting this: Ming Thein is now on instagram.


I’m willing to bet that none of you saw this coming. I haven’t lost it, and I’m not about to touch any filters with a long, long barge pole, but there is method behind the madness. If you’re on instagram already, I’m here or @mingthein.

Conversely, if you’ve come here for the first time from Instagram, you’ll need to know a few things: I’m against filters, I care about the last nth degree of image quality, and I take my photography very, very seriously.

I’m still against filters. I still believe they outsource a good chunk of creativity to the person writing the software. It’s like sending your film off to a lab and expecting the random man who does the developing (if you’re lucky enough to get a man and not a machine) to know what you intended for the final image; Ansel Adams never sent his film to the local minilab for a reason. For that same reason, I’ll never use a preset filter – nor will I make one. You simply cannot apply a one-size-fits-all bunch of settings to every image and expect them to work.

However, instagram as a social platform is a different story. I admit to great stubbornness in the past on this, but two things also occur to me: firstly, that many people can’t be wrong, and since there are no absolutes in the image making business, there’s probably something right going on there. (It still doesn’t mean I have to use filters.) Content is more immediate and easily consumable platform than an extended article on the main site. Secondly, that many people are an opportunity to educate a bit, raise the standards, and maybe get some of them to take this whole photography thing a bit more seriously – I’m sure there are many camera phone users who enjoy the process but aren’t very happy with what they’re producing, but don’t know why.

Interstingly, instagram is one of the very few photographic channels where the equipment doesn’t really play into it; there actually seems to be very little gear obsession and an overwhelming focus on the images.

I have very clear objectives for the use of instagram as opposed to twitter/facebook/flickr/the site; I think without a solid strategy to your social media, you’ll just land up either wasting time duplicating efforts or not using the platform effectively. I plan to use instagram for two things: firstly, to post single images that don’t fit anywhere else – those of you following my flickr stream will know that I upload structured sets of 5-10 images at a time, there is continuity, there are ordered sets, and the account serves as a host for the curated images shown on the main site. Facebook and twitter are poor platforms for image uploads, partially due to compression and partially due to the display format. But both have a decent following, so I’ll post an image there from time to time. The site is the serious beast, and I’m sure that much is clear: it is a place for structured discourse, researched articles and deeper thoughts.

In the early days, I used to do a photo of the day post – I stopped because it was competing for attention with my regular content. Think of instagram as reprising that – it is for me to post single images (unfortunately only those which fit within the square format, so I suppose the Hasselblad will have to see more action) that work in small output sizes – things like Forest II will never be uploaded there – they simply don’t make sense at anything less than an Ultraprint as the final display medium, let alone 500 pixels square.

Beyond that, it’s an interesting opportunity to post experimental work that doesn’t really belong in a series or fit with the rest of the site; I think of it as a laboratory of sorts. Hopefully it will also expand the audience of the site at the same time.

If you’re already on instagram, you can follow me @mingthein or here

In the meantime, I’m going to get my raincoat and umbrella and brace myself for the comment onslaught to follow…MT


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  1. Welcome to IG! As a long-time reader/lurker, and enjoyer of many things photographic, thought I’d drop a line. I really enjoy Instagram and don’t really understand why so many knock it. My view anyway is that certain images work really, really well on IG, some of which would never stand up if you print them big. And other images, like say some images you might want to print really big, don’t translate all that well to Instagram. So…you play to the strengths of the medium. Also, for what it’s worth I love the VSCOCam app. I fine my iPhone overcooks the exposure and lacks contrast in a lot of light, so it’s an easy thing to fix. Also, really like many of their filters. Anyway…thanks for all of your work with this blog. Fantastic stuff!

    • Thank you. You’re absolutely right – the repro size matters. I wouldn’t ever print anything large from IG; it wouldn’t meet the Ultraprint objective. And frankly most images that are absolutely stunning in person as prints are pretty boring on screen because of the limitations of the reproduction medium…

      Iphone: tap to expose, and use HDR mode in high contrast situations. No exposure problems here. 🙂

      • Excellent. And yes, good reminder about HDR. All fun stuff. See you on IG. @mylroie 😉

  2. Say it isn’t so Ming. You capitulated to the dark side in the hopes of generating some filthy lucre!

    • I wish. I would have stayed in finance if it was for the lucre. Rest assured that this site and everything associated with it takes up a good 40-50% of my time, which I continue to give for free.

      And there’s no way in hell I’ll be selling Ultraprints off instagram, hah!

      IG is a platform for me to use for mobile photography in single bites, hopefully expand the site’s readership, and that’s about it.

      • I can understand your reasons for wanting to expand, but this is the kind of thing that worries me about IG: .

        • I don’t think I’m ever going to be that lucky. Why does it worry you?

          • Part of me thinks that we should all be so lucky, but a bigger part of me wonders about how photography is being received in this type of environment. If all that has been reported about this event is reasonably accurate, I find it a somewhat sad state of affairs. The whole thing seems less about selling art than trying to create an “event” and whip up people into a frenzy and get them to spend money. The work of his that I have seen (at IG and Tumblr) has a few interesting shots, but it mostly reminds me of ordinary snapshots. I understand that technology has flattened the world of photography by allowing more people to both take and share images, but does that really mean that with enough “social media” marketing, snapshots or photos from anybody can suddenly obtain value where 4×6 prints are selling for $150? I do not want to sound like an art snob, especially because I try to have an open mind about what people wish to call art, but given how much time and energy you have spent in your blog posts talking about similar issues, it seems to me that this approach to the buying and selling of photographic images could wreak a bit of havoc for folks like yourself trying to sell images like your Ultraprints. I know that IG is popular, but I wonder the costs vs. the benefits to your “brand” by being active there. It is an interesting topic for extended discussion, and I am curious to see how this plays out for you in both the short and long run.


            • I don’t intend to sell anything through IG. There’s no way you can accurately represent an Ultraprint via IG of all media – and I don’t want to make 4×6 snapshots…

              IG fills a hole for me: somewhere to put the passing daily observations I shoot with my phone. They aren’t compositionally compromised, but they won’t make Ultraprints either.

  3. The main negative thing about Instagram is that there’s too much “white noise” that drown out the really talented artists. It is a platform that convey speed-of-light streams of little images, just suited to users with very few moments to dedicate to a particular photo. But it is a good thing to expand own presence on a variety of platforms.

    • True. It’s unfortunately the ‘fast food’ equivalent of photography. I’ll run it for a while as an experiment and see; if it just turns out to be too much work, then I’ll probably shut it down. No point in adding yet another pile of work to the already overflowing plate 🙂

  4. plevyadophy says:

    OMG! How dare you?!!!

    Such appallingly bad manners.

    How dare you say you will not be using filters on Instagram?!!!

    That’s like joining a golf club and then deciding you want to play soccer on the lovely green; if you wanna play soccer on grass, go find grass on a soccer pitch. In other words, have the courtesy to obey house rules and customs.

    Instagram is for filters. Please use them


  5. I really couldn’t agree more about IG being more about the images than anything else. I hadn’t really thought too much about how the filters remove a great deal of the creativity behind the photos, handing it over to the people who wrote the software, but I’ve found myself applying them in increasingly rare situations anyway. I’m excited to see where you take this.

    • I think it’s going to be mostly camera phone images simply because uploading from any other source is such a pain…still, I’ve done some work with the iPhone I’m pleased with, and things keep improving with each generation…

  6. The Hungry Rabbit Jumps. 🙂

  7. I think you will be the first one to use a hassel photo on instagram

  8. So… No filters. Agree 1000 %. But I do send my Velvia 50 that I shoot with my F6 or Leica M3 to a professional lab for developing and high res scans….. Does that mean I’m using a Velvia filter? 🙂

    • At least when your frames say RVP50, it really is RVP50! The Instagram RVP100 border can be added to the flattest, most black-lifted, least color saturated photo in the world. I’m not sure I’ve seen one on a B&W photo yet …

      • That’s one of the things that really gets my goat. Nobody using that damn border has any clue what RVP100 is supposed to look like…

        • Tom Liles says:

          One of my photographic dream goals is to shoot RVP (of Man Utd) with RVP (of Fujifilm). I would call the series, “RVP.”

          (But I’m not sure whether leaving the border in would cheapen or enhance the work; it’s such a bad joke, leaving the border in would probably be in keeping)

          ((This was a total hypothetical))

          • Peter Boender says:

            First: Hahaha! Secondly: After ManU vs Olympiakos I’m not so sure you can hide behind hypothetical for much longer 😛

    • Yes! 🙂

    • I suppose it does. And if that tonal palette doesn’t suit your subject matter, it will have the same effect as using a digital filter for the sake of it – the technical qualities of the image dominate over the compositional ones.

      • I shall endeavor to use it judiciously, tastefully and appropriately of course. Or use some Provia, Ektar, Acros or Delta. And I promise not to mess up the exposure on purpose! I actually took a look at the instagram filters online – the antithesis of real photography – ugh!

  9. alanpaone says:

    Try to stick to using your phone to post. All those “I shot this a month ago with my hasselblad! #nofilter” accounts are really stale and don’t make a lot of sense on instagram. The best accounts on there post as they’re capturing. Anything else feels like advertising.

  10. Hey Ming – I think I understand your ‘no filters’ approach. However, I would like to suggest that you are already using ‘filters.’ It’s just that you are using the ‘f-64’ filter, or ‘straight photography’ filter, or whatever you want to call it. By using the camera ‘as it comes out of the box’ you are using the ‘filters’ the programmers, engineers and others who designed and built the camera and lens you are using decided what the final product should look like. You are using ‘filters’ when you convert to b&w, adjust saturation and levels, and curves and on and on. The digital cameras you/we are using are a construct – designed to mimic film cameras. They certainly don’t ‘see’ the way you or I do, and on top of that each one of us sees differently. I just came back from my morning bicycle ride. My glasses are smeared and my eyes have trouble focusing because of the pollen and stuff that worked itself into my eyes. My ‘world’ did not look anything like a photograph by you, had you been along on the ride’ would have looked like. Best wishes -c-

    • It depends on how you want to define ‘filter’. How about this: I’m not using a set of adjustments that aims to convert the image to somebody else’s intended style, especially where the style then dominates over or doesn’t enhance the content.

      • I really can see your point and basically agree, but I think photographers should move past this distinction. In the ‘old days’ I ran into it when using infra-red, or warm toned enlarging paper, or high speed film, or my Holga, etc,, ect, …….I just really think it is a petty distinction, and that the only thing that should matter is the final product..

        • Have you come across ANY filter that produces an acceptable final product? I certainly haven’t.

          • Well, I am pretty happy with several of the nik filters, Silver Efex, Color Efex, Viveza…..or are you not counting them?

            • Not happy with those either.

              • Well, it seems like only yesterday when some people were turning up their nose at photographers who used Photoshop —— or digital cameras for that matter. So, I think it is all relative and I am sure that there are a significant number of well respected commercial and ‘fine-art’ photographers who do use nik filters.
                I always told my students that I did not care how they developed their film, if dunking it in the toilet worked for them, and the results were what they wanted and what I had asked them for, then fine…

  11. I think IG has fallen out of favour for most of the serious photographers out there. I use IG but I do not post any image that I deem not qualified to represent a certain aspect of my vision. Used correctly, just any other tool, the phone’s camera can be a great capturing device. Yes, you have no manual controls (as most camera phones) but that should not stop you from thinking outside the box and force the camera to bend to your will, or in most of our cases, our vision.

    As for filters, I do agree with Ming – there is no preset or set of presets that can be used to improve your image – it sill comes to composition, light and vision. However, there are apps available that can help you align the capture image to what your vision is (VSCO, Adobe PS Express, etc.). It is still the same case either you use a top end digital camera or a phone, post processing still comes to taste and over-doing it (or in IG’s case, over simplifying it) will only lend to the detriment of your image.

    My two cents.

  12. Is there a Malaysian equivalent of April Fool’s Day? I still won’t be joining instagram, but then again I have little hope of a larger audience whether it be on instagram, flickr, a website, wherever. A larger audience for me would be a total audience of something on the order of 1 or 2. Anyway, here’s hoping it works out for you.

  13. In my years of Instagram use I loved that social app. It’s not a portfolio, but you can use it also as if it is. I met many appassionate photographers thanks to Instagram: first on their (and my) accounts then in person when they were visiting Venice or when I was travelling abroad. That’s why I love it. I’m going to add you right now, Mymaco is my nickname! Welcome!

  14. Welcome to Instagram, Ming. I almost never use filters too – and when I use is just the ones that deals with contrast (like the X Pro II), or the b&w ones, never the “hipster” ones; in fact, only use when I’m too lazy to perform basic adjustments in a picture to post in a hurry. I´ve never even bother to think a lot about the photos that I out there – only very recently I’ve started to take it a bit more seriously, but my cats still appears there. 🙂

    About the work to post a photo there – yes, it’s a hassle. With iOS, even worse, because of the stupid behavior about sharing files betwwen applications in iOS. First step, is to upload the photo to Dropbox – is the painless option to transfer the photo from the computer. Then the hassle begins: unlike Android, you can’t just import the photo directly from Dropbox inside the Instagram’s iOS app (it only access your phone’s Camera Roll). The best way, I think, is the reverse: open the Dropbox app, find the photo, select it, choose Export (in my iPad is an icon with a square and an arrow), and the option “Open in…”, then Instagram will appear as an option.

    If you will perform some edition in the phone (Snapseed and VSCO Cam were the two best options that I’ve found until now), will have to pray that the chosen app have some kind of export / link to Instagram, or will have to save in the Camera Roll to open it in Instagram; these VERY restrictive sharing options are one fo the reasons that I hate iOS and use Android – in Andriod, direct sharing between almost all apps in the phone are (almost) always present in every app, you can pass the image with easy form one app to another.

    I’m not used to the square format too – even use some apps to put black bars in the image when want to share a photo that only works in the original format. And about in-phone editing, still researching which one do proper editing / resize without losing too much quality (as I said, never bothered with it in Instagram until recently).

    • That really does still sound like a hassle. I’m seriously starting to think the best way to go might be to post SOOC from the iPhone…

      • Tom Liles says:

        In your case, MT, SOOC from the iPhone has to be the only way, surely? Certainly when there is something in the right zone to tap meter, aren’t iPhones actually pretty decent for getting the exposure in the pocket from the get-go? I’m not sure if that would meet your baseline for “presentable,” Ming, there is no PP step here, but if anyone could get it right first time (figuratively), it’s you…
        And when Instagrammers ask you “HOW did you do that? LOL” and, yes, “which filter is THAT!? LOL OMG LOL”—it will be the perfect segue into your site and your outlook when you say “it’s straight out of camera, no filters; this is not easy, but to learn a little more about it and perhaps how to try yourself I invite you to take a look at That’s my site, I’m a professional photographer.”

        • Pretty much. Though there’s always that old app PhotoForge, which is about the closest anybody got to putting PS on a mobile device – it even has Lab mode editing and layers!

          But yes, touch to meter – especially with the increased exposure latitude of the 5s – gets you most of the way there. Color and WB is better on the new phone, too.

  15. Reblogged this on rafaeljacob.

  16. Which filter should I use? 🙂

    All joking aside, it’s good to try new things. And Flickr is kind of a disaster on touch screens, too. Here’s my workflow for putting my photos on Instagram in case any of it is helpful to anyone else:

    1. Reduce to 640×640 resolution, with white filling in the background for non-square pictures. The 640 resolution is said to be the best that Instagram accepts while doing minimal damage from their downsizing. No idea how true that is. White background so it blends in with the iPhone Instagram app’s background color. I use Lightroom’s high sharpening setting in its export dialog. The shareware LR plugin LRMogrify does my borders and white filling. LR users should check it out — it’s really good for borders.

    2. Copy file to Dropbox account. On phone or iPad, copy image from Dropbox into Photos folder. Post on Instagram.

    3. I use hashtags to denote my equipment and film type if applicable, like #nikonf3 or #film #portra. The app will suggest existing hashtags so you can see what the most applicable tag is. I do this not to be a like-whore, but because Instagram discovery is actually quite terrible. I’ve found that people will actually look for these hashtags, and that may get you wider exposure or be an informal part of a community.

    If anyone wants to check out what I’ve fine, look for @lolcar. The latest pictures all are done like this.

    There are some remarkable pictures on Instagram, especially some of the loose, rough iPhone photos with no editing — I especially like @dalberda. I think he takes a photo, and then screen captures the photo to put white borders on them, so they’ve been JPEGed twice!

    Anyway, welcome to Instagram!

    • God, that sounds like a lot of work. Perhaps SOOC iPhone jpg is the way to go…

      • Really? I have an Instagram export preset in LR and the rest of it is just copying stuff around. The hashtags are auto-suggested especially once you start using them. After it’s on my iDevice, it takes maybe 30 seconds at most to post and tag, but I limit myself to 1 picture every 2 or 3 days, too. I’ll preload onto Dropbox 5 or 6 pictures.

        But it’d be great to see SOOC iPhone pics too!

      • I’m not in Instagram yet but I thought that was the purpose of the site to post cell phone pics not camera pics? Maybe I missed something along the way.. I like seeing real creativity there (no ugly filters please).. A good photographer can take great shots with the cell phone (iphone is my choice) as it’s all about their composition, vision, etc.. I say put away your big boy cameras and let Instagram be a fun place to play!!

        • Ironically instagram may well be the last place where the capture device does not matter.

          That said, I think you must be new here. I’ve got images in the Getty main library from my iPhone, and use it more often than you might expect. In fact, there’s a lot of iPhone work here too…

  17. I do apologise, that was supposed to be just a hyperlink, not the actual “screen” on you comments page.

  18. All of a sudden I hear this song in the back of my head…..

  19. claire maw says:

    Ha! I joined instagram 2 weeks ago. Two days earlier I had passionately explained to someone why I didn’t use it and never would. Turns out I really like it and likw the challenge of creating an image that works in that format and I love the social aspect. Follow me on @ ayuplass

  20. James de Penning says:

    It’s a brave new world Ming! Looking forward to seeing all the square goodness.

  21. I have to say that I was blown away, Ming. Ming! On Instagram! I’ve heard the tirades against filers et al. But I commend you for always taking a self-critical approach and questioning your own dogmas in pursuit of greater knowledge. I hope that as we grow wiser and mature we can change our opinions on many things.

    Having said that, I tried Instagram for a year maybe a year or so ago. I was so frustrated because it only accepts square format. So I was either cropping pictures that I never saw that way or presenting full format photos with horrible, ugly borders around them. I got the buzz to try it and it was just hip, new, and retro enough to take a stab at it. There was some nostalgia and lack of seriousness that I enjoyed. But when I found your blog, flickr and started really getting serious again, I let Instagram go. I’m one of those people who had no conscious ethic for using it. Looking back today for the first time in ages (since I saw your prompt) I see how much of that work was early. I should probably erase most of it and start over.

    For me, the challenge may be to find a way to see an occasional square. And with that intention, to contribute to a new Roger Wojahn Instagram page. With any luck, it’ll force me to find my way to a Hasselblad kit one of these days.

    I love your curiosity and willingness to evolve, Ming. You continue to live a great example. Looking forward to your feed. Guess I’ll have to start again myself.

    Cuba! 🙂

    • No filters here either. Square isn’t too I intuitive for me anyway, it’s all Hasselblad. I suspect this channel will slowly gravitate towards mobile photography only thoigh.

  22. This is like Dylan going electric 🙂

    Still, shows that you’re always open to new ideas and approaches, which is never a bad thing. I don’t hold out hope that you’ll be able to “educate” too many of Instagram’s denizens, but if it brings some more people your way, then it was worth it!

  23. Watch out…You will be using filters before you know it! When that salad would look better with just a little bit of morning light on it 🙂

  24. Happy to hear that you finally join the community, hope to see your many creative images and contribution to this community. I joined half a year ago, so far it’s still the funnest way to share images for me.

    • It’s actually a bit of a pain as I’ve got to transfer from the computer to the phone to post…

      • …and that is one of the problems the camera makers are having. The digital workflow with a separate camera is too hard for what normal people are doing today — sharing on the web. If you think it’s a pain, no wonder folks have lost interest in “good” cameras.

        • It’s a pain because the app makers chose it to be that way. You can’t upload from a computer via the website, you have to do it from your phone. Removing this would be both easy and solve the problem entirely. This has nothing to do with the camera.

          • Could you use flickr on the phone to transfer the files?

          • It’s also a pain because the camera makers make it hard to get pictures from your camera to your phone! I know you use the E-M1. I’d be interested in knowing your experiences with going from the Olympus to your phone while away from a “real” computer. Of course, it would probably mean using camera JPEGs.

            • To be honest, it seems unnecessarily fiddly…

              • I use iCloud to sync my photos from Aperture to a shared album (in iCloud). From IG I can then upload the photo from the shared album on my iPhone. You may have a similar mechanism. Also.. try Squareready app to make square photos that keep the aspect of your original (with white border).

            • Peter Boender says:

              You can use the Olympus Image Share (OI.Share) app (both iOS and Android). Set up a local WiFI network from the E-M1 to which your phone will connect. You can download images from the camera. More fun (and actually useful at times): it acts as a remote: operate the camera from the phone (with Live View!). There’s also a GeoTag feature.

  25. Tom Liles says:


    And there’s nothing wrong with doing it, changing your mind, disowning Instagram and ripping the account down down the line. Nothing at all. In fact that, or any dynamic and changing modus operandi, is preferable—it makes narrative. Ups and downs. Lefts, rights; climaxes, anti-climaxes… Weft, warp, speed ups, speed downs and speed ups again. Narrative.

    What makes the World turn
    (Literally, as even physics is a narrative)

    Best wishes on the new chapter!

  26. HaHa!!!! Too funny. Sounds like you have a sound approach though… 🙂

  27. Larry house says:

    Nice (image). And clear thinking all around. Thank you.

    I have no FB or Tweeterer accounts, but I’m not opposed to the idea of social media, if it doesn’t get misused or become a distraction. Unfortunately, it very often does.

    I do appreciate why you’re doing this. The images, and what you write, will be the true messages.


  28. The guy selling his images on Instagram recently for 15K $USD is a bit of an incentive ….you never know someone may want to license one of your images they find, and thats not a bad thing.

    • I seriously question the underlying quality of those though. But hey, if people will pay…

      • MarcoSartoriPhoto says:

        I use Instagram modtly for fun, to post my photos in a lower resolution and have a feedback from friends and people who does not use Flickr, for example. It’s a social app based upon pictures, it’s not a portfolio, but it can be used as that as well.
        I’m going to add you now, I’m Mymaco on IG.
        I must say that in years I knew and met a lot of people with the passion of photography: living near Venice is a good thing, being it one of the most visited cities in the world, and there I met and keep meeting people from around the world. All thanks to this app. 🙂

  29. Do I need a phone to access instagram?

  30. Many people can be wrong.

    But I hope this boosts your exposure still further.

  31. Awesome! Here’s to continued experimentation, and maybe even reinvention!

  32. Leo Gemetro says:

    I’m just going to say this:


    Jokes aside, let’s welcome innovation and change. Hope it helps to bring MT to the masses.


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