FD Photoessay: Early large format landscapes

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These photoessays will have far fewer images than the usual variety, simply because the number of images taken is necessarily lower. I’ll shoot perhaps 12 frames in a productive day. To confess, I’ve actually been hesitating a little over whether to post these at all, because even though the loss from print to screen is enormous, there’s an even bigger loss between full digital files to web. There is simply no way to represent them in such a way that doesn’t throw away most of the tonal subtlety and immersive detail. I’ll do it anyway, for the curious. But upfront I will say that something is definitely missing…there’s a ‘digitalness’ to the images at this size that isn’t present in the full size images; I suspect it’s because once you shrink an image this much a lot of the subtle tonal and microcontrast cues that say ‘film’ are downsized into oblivion. Just so you know: you’re looking at an image that’s been reduced to about 0.5% of the original size. MT

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The hut

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Incoming mangrove tide

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Cactus man

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A false sense of calm

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Convergence I

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Convergence II


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


  1. Oh, that I did not expect. A wild guess, could it have something to do with the conversion to digital before printing? I wonder if it makes a difference if it’s scanned and printed directly at a lab.

  2. There is the digitalness to it for sure but it is still pretty damn good. I can only imagine how great the images are in full res or print. Awesome BWs Ming!!

    • Thanks Eugene. But I’m not that happy with the printed output – that is what looks too ‘digital’. Perhaps I need to print even larger…

  3. I’m a regular reader of your site and know that you are a top photographer. But these images are mediocre by your high standards Ming.

  4. Awesome as usual… I definitely understand what you’re talking about when it comes to output. When it’s displayed digitally there’s no trace of the process, which can be an important part of the photo, just an image. Something I’m dealing with right now actually is trying to convince my teacher that color film is so unnecessarily hard to work with… but that’s probably another topic.

    • Thank you. Are you finding color film hard to work with because of developing or because of something else? He’s probably making you use colour film to develop your discipline precisely because you have very little control over the process; that said, you could also shoot with an iPhone for the same effect.

  5. Carlos Esteban says:

    Very strong compositions to me. Thanks for sharing.

    You got some light in the upper left corner of the first one – do you know why? And I guess you pointed the camera a bit upwards since the trees looks diverging – have you reached the vertical limits of the camera?
    About Barrier – that i liked the most – there are several tinny lines above the wave – i believe due to scratching during processing the negative – do you know what happened?


    • Thanks Carlos. Yes – mishandling on loading on my part. The trees diverge a bit because they’re a) going uphill, which you can’t really tell from the image, and b) I reached the rise limits.

      Barrier – the lines are not scratches – the surface of the negative is fine under a loupe. They’re actually there on the image, which is puzzling.

      • Carlos Esteban says:

        Really strange. Maybe someone guess better but the only cause I can imagine is a slide scratched and them passing very low amount of light…

  6. Hello Ming, great Pictures!

    Just a detail about “Barrier” left me wondering: What are those thin vertical bright “stripes” between the actual barrier and the pier?

    • Me too – I think they’re flare, but that doesn’t make sense as there’s no light source there. Perhaps diagonally. They aren’t handling marks as the negative itself is unscratched; but the stripes are of course there in the image…

      • How did you digitize those negatives? The stripes are straight, but actually converging to the highlights on the pier. Are the stripes present in the uncompressed scan as well? I could imagine them to be some kind of digital artifact, i.e. somewhere in your workflow as some kind of “buffer overflow”. Recently I had unexpected artifacts in a picture (4000 dpi scan of a 6×7 neg) after saving it as jpg (Q=100% though !). After emptying the RAM of any unnecessary processes, the picture could be saved correctly though…

  7. Hello Ming,
    I was a bit surprised to see that you are using a LF camera. However, maybe you could help me with a problem I am having concerning the use of LF Film VS. Digital 35mm. I now shoot with the Nikon D700 and usually make high quality 8.5X11 to 12X18 B&W or color prints. However, I just finished a job that required prints up to 36X54. The quality was Good but not Great. I would love to have a D800e but can not afford one just now. However, I do have a Wista SP45 LF camera that I have not used for quite some time. Question: Do you think I should keep using the D700 and saving for the D800e or start using the Wista 4X5 for my Very Large print jobs…also, is the 4X5 going to give me prints as good as the D800e?

  8. David Glasco says:

    I would appreciate your opinion regarding a problem I have…I now shoot with the Nikon D700 but also have a Wista SP 45 LF camera that I have not used for quite a few years. I usually make high quality B&W and Color prints as my finished product in sizes 8.5X11 to 12X18. However, I have just finished a job where the prints were quite large..24X36 to 36X54. Question: As I can not afford a D800e at this time should I try using the 4X5 for my large Architectural and Landscape work and will the quality be as good as the D800e?

  9. Remember Ming, you are stepping up to the “ALTER” of photography. Sort of like getting into a formula 1 car. After mastering a formula 1 car, every other car is an easy drive! Large format, especially 8 x 10, is the high ALTER…..

  10. Son of Sharecroppers says:

    I like these shots, especially “Barrier,” “Deadwood,” and “Convergence I.” Another commenter noted on the dark patch on the horizon in “Convergence II”: very interesting.

    I live in Minneapolis, and I purchased my 4×5 in October. By the time I was comfortable with using it, it was very, very cold here, and it has remained that way. I’m looking forward to actual spring, so I can start using it for landscapes.

    In the meantime, I’ve been shooting still lifes: flowers, shells, and the like. That’s fun, too!

  11. Of all these photographs, I think your deadwood ones are the most intriguing. If I were you, I would pursue those as a project in various lighting and weather conditions. Nice job.

    Jack Siegel

  12. good B&W shoots

  13. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “..of course intentional.”
    That was obvious! (As on a couple of other similar occasions.)

  14. Kristian Wannebo says:

    My favourites:
    Nr:s 1, 2, 3, 5.
    And the last one. It isn’t the first time I like your timing when catching a pattern of waves.

    1/250 s (nr:s 4 and 7):
    The result of your choice of DOF (with a bit of tilt?) or a primary choice?
    I like the way you caught the water swirling at different speeds.

    And, by the way, do you have a local sea monster?
    I kind of see its face just under the surface in the lower right quarter of “A false sense of calm”. 😉

    ( Interesting optical illusion in the last one:
    The “darker” patch in the sky on the horizon above the reflections from the sun.)

  15. Even at the reduced size these look beautiful and stunning. Would be fantastic to be able look over your shoulder while you shoot these. I believe it would be a very calming experience.

    • Thanks – also very boring, as I was waiting for light in several instances – and then running from an incoming tide in others…

  16. Frank Petronio says:

    You’re being pretty conservative with your subjects (or lack of any subject really) as these are mostly pattern and detail – I’m sure the individual leaves look amazing at 100% but they’re lost on the web. The light seems uninteresting. Why not try some interiors in window light at closer distances, as you’ll get some range into the photos. It would also allow you to shoot, process, load, and repeat so that you perfect your film handling and processing quicker. Also you could allow some (any?) depth of field isolation to creep in, shoot a few still lives, maybe not at 1:1 watch scale but think of Irving Penn tabletops. You’d probably do great with those… and there is a reason NY photographers shot so much still life (bad weather kept them inside).

    • First trial run – and in a location I’ve always wanted to shoot. I’d probably have stronger images with the Hassy because I’d be thinking less about the operation of the camera and more about the composition, but I’m sure that’ll pass with practice. I’ve shot perhaps 40 sheets of LF, against several hundred rolls of 120 (and many, many more 135) and millions of digital frames…

  17. I think you touch upon an important point with 4×5. How to present 4×5 images to the audience? Similar to how you have written about the importance of the final intended output; regardless of Flickr or large print gallery or examples on your amazing instructional videos. How many people have seen the images I made with a 4×5 camera? This makes make the intuitive leap that people who choose to shoot 4×5 choose to do so for themselves. It is a practice in their discipline. The actual output of the image is less important than the process used to get there.

    • It’s the same problem I face with the Ultraprints – you can’t really present them in any way other than physically, and in person. Otherwise the impact is completely lost.

      I agree: large format is really for personal reasons; to force you to think.

  18. Very Nice Set! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Hi Ming. Seems you choice of location was to avoid the unwanted attention that large format camera must attract ;). I imagine this process is the photographic equivalent to open air painting. There is a great sense of consideration in the way these images are composed, great work.


  1. […] past; those of you with exceptional memories might remember it from the Panasonic GM1 review and early large format landscapes. Truth is, I’d been meaning to come back to this location for a long time, earlier in the […]

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