Workshop report and 2015 poll: Outstanding Images Chicago, Masterclass San Francisco

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As has become customary post-workshop, I’m pleased to present the report from the Chicago Making Outstanding Images Workshop and San Francisco Masterclass in early September this year. Following the previous London and Havana reports, I’d like to share some of the best images from my students instead of showing too many photographs of people photographing – I think those aren’t quite as demonstrative of what can be achieved in just a few days. Since next year’s workshop schedule is still very much open, I’m going to finish up with a poll to see where you’d like me to go next.

Finally, a spot has recently opened up for the November 24-29 Venice Masterclass due to one participant’s last minute work commitments. Please email me if you’d like to book, or for more info.

Most importantly, none of this would be possible without my enthusiastic and wonderful students: I owe you all an enormous thank you for participating and getting into the spirit of things; it has been my pleasure to shoot with you all during the time we spent together. I hope we’ll get the opportunity again!

Making Outstanding Images Chicago

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Simply due to the nature of the city, MOE Chicago was very architecture and street-skewed: arguably the home of the Skyscraper and the artificial habitat of people, with intense changing light and very inviting public spaces leading to plenty of opportunities for street photography. As is normal with these workshops, we based ourselves in tourist areas to blend in: more people taking photographs is hardly controversial or out of place. But that’s not to say a challenge didn’t remain: making a unique picture of the Bean, for instance, isn’t quite such an easy task. On completion of the two shooting days, we spent half of the third day in active critique, and the other half in examining the postprocessing workflow to take the presentation of images up a notch to the next level. It’s a classroom-heavy day, but I’ve always been told afterwards that the detailed image reviews are amongst the most useful parts of the workshop.

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In all probability, this will be the last of the Outstanding Images workshops, now that the full contents have been translated to video. The format is quite intensive, ordered and exercise-driven; it’s a great photographic boot camp to reboot your eyes, but is not meant to develop creative experimentation because we simply have too much to cover in the available time. The other reason is that I prefer the Masterclass format because it allows me to spend more individual time with each student, and the learning process is both customised and significantly accelerated.

The images that follow are published with the permission of the participants – I’ve kept it anonymous to avoid focusing too much or unwittingly embarrassing anybody, but they’re of course welcome to claim ownership in the comments 🙂



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Masterclass San Francisco

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Spanning six days, with an intense group portfolio review session on each end, the Masterclasses are not for the faint hearted: there’s a lot of shooting, very fast feedback (daily at noon, actually) and individual sessions where you’ve got to deal with a perfectionist, overbearing curmudgeon over your shoulder the whole time 🙂 I think what really stood out to me here was the variety of subjects the participants set as objectives: everything from street photography, to finding style, to translating/executing the idea, to landscape photography, to night and long exposure work, to watches, urban and architecture. They’re an ideal vehicle for you to learn whatever you want, and focus on whatever you need to (providing of course the location is conducive). You can learn from not just me, but the creative vision of your fellow participants.

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Alternate viewing method for vertical images

San Francisco was the perfect backdrop, offering a huge variety of shooting opportunities. Frankly, I felt an embarrassment of riches alone in Golden Gate Park – we probably spent three hours by the side of one small pond alone. We shot everywhere from the Mission to Union Square, Chinatown, Embarcadero/Ferry Building area and even on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County;  crossing that at night (my first time, actually) will live on as one of my most memorable experiences.

It was a fantastic experience both for the students and for myself as a photographer and teacher because of the the pace and the challenge of continually changing conditions. I’m very, very proud to say that I saw an enormous amount of improvement from day one to day six – and a lot of the time, the initial objectives participants brought in were not adhered to. This is absolutely fine, and in some ways, to be expected – the more one shoots, the better you know what you like/ enjoy and what you don’t. Without that knowledge, curation of one’s work is impossible, and without curation and active assessment…there can be no improvement.

The images that follow are published with the permission of the participants – I’ve kept it anonymous to avoid focusing too much or unwittingly embarrassing anybody, but they’re of course welcome to claim ownership in the comments 🙂














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Trio - Palo Alto - 2014


Hog Island - San Francisco - 2014


There is a spot available for the November 24-29 Venice Masterclass due to one participant’s last minute work commitments. Please email me if you’d like to book, or for more info.

And on to 2015…

Please use the poll below to indicate where you’d be interested in attending a workshop in 2015. Given my current schedule, I will likely be able to do at most four to five locations in total (I did six this year – Melbourne, Havana, London, Chicago, San Francisco, and Venice – next month). I think it’s safe to assume it’s going to follow the Masterclass format, and please only answer if you have serious interest so I can accurately gauge demand…thank you!

Some thoughts, feedback and testimonials from the groups…

Andre Yew (San Francisco Masterclass) – 5 Great Reasons To Attend A Ming Thein Masterclass
1. The pre-workshop portfolio selection. Picking ten images to show who you are as a photographer makes you think really hard about the kind of photographer you want to be, and that in turn will help you make a plan for what you want to learn and how you can improve. When do we really
get to think introspectively about what we’re doing? It’s also really tough!
2. Individual, extensive coaching from Ming. Ming wants to help you be the best photographer you can be, whatever your photographic vision or goal may be. He isn’t interested in making clones of himself. You may already have a distinctive photographic style, but that artistic vision could be held back by technical issues. He’s going to be blunt about telling you what you need to fix, but he’s also going to help you fix those problems. In my case, working on a couple of compositional issues is going to make my work and what I want to say stronger, clearer, and more consistent than ever before.
3. Your fellow students. The positive atmosphere, enthusiasm, and great energy of your fellow students are infectious! Each day, I looked forward to seeing what everyone else had done, and it was really great to see how everyone had improved and changed over the course of only 5
days at the ending portfolio review.
4. Seeing how Ming works. Lots of people have written about seeing Ming edit, and that is truly a wonder. But when you’re out in the field with the man, and see him bound down a hill with a large tripod in one hand, and a large roll-aboard camera case in the other chasing a fading sunset, or standing in the cold fog freezing various body parts off just to get one more shot, you can’t help but be inspired by his energy and enthusiasm. He truly loves photography, and that rubs off very easily.
5. Having a whole week just to shoot with no other concerns. When else will you have permission to have a whole week just for yourself, working on your photography? In my normal life, I get to shoot only on the weekends, but this concentrated week has helped me improve considerably.

Joe Atkinson (San Francisco Masterclass) – Your breadth of experience and skill, combined with your personality, teaching style, and flexibility created an unforgettable week of photographic immersion. I was unprepared (“Know your equipment!”), but it didn’t matter. You created a flexible structure for each of us to define and then pursue our goals; I learned not only from you, but from each of the other participants. I especially appreciated how you taught to both our strengths and weaknesses, and how you let us (literally, in my case) drive our own agenda for our session with you. I can still hear the echo of your advice every time I look through the viewfinder: “Take your time!” Thanks for the many words of straight-forward advice and thank you for a great experience at the SF Masterclass!

Gary Getz (San Francisco Masterclass) – The Masterclass was a fantastic learning experience for me! My goal for the week was to inject mood and feeling into my images, which I viewed as an aesthetic aspiration; but what I quickly learned was that I needed to put several technical building blocks in place first. After two days of practice on technique, I received the all-clear (and some great guidance) to work on my initial goal — and the improvement in my results was clear. The half-day that I spent with Ming one-on-one, working on a very specific set of skills, was absolute gold — Ming watched me try things my way, and then rapidly diagnosed my opportunities for improvement and taught me some fantastic principles and tricks of the trade that I know will serve me well for years to come. And the interactions with my fellow students were fantastic, both during the formal portfolio reviews and the daily lunchtime get-togethers where we compared notes and received input from Ming. I’d certainly sign up again, with an eye toward other parts of the photographic universe — who knows, maybe next time it will be architecture or landscape!

Margaret Cheng (San Francisco Masterclass) – Aside from yearbook photography in high school, I consider myself a casual photographer who started photography back up about 5 years ago when my husband (David) and I went on safari in Kenya and Tanzania at which time David introduced me to digital photography and Lightroom. Since then, we have usually reserved our photographic efforts for vacations, resulting in mostly landscape photography.
Previously, we participated in a couple of workshops led by pro photographers. I was interested in learning more about composition (other than the rule of thirds!), what made a photograph good or bad, and how it could be improved in-camera and with post processing.
Those workshops were great for showing us where and when to go to a particular location at the right time of day for good light, but unfortunately, they always seemed short on meaningful instruction. I always went away feeling disappointed that I didn’t learn as much as I would have liked, especially considering the potential of how much the instructor could have taught us. I think that it’s just easier to comment on technical things like exposure, etc. rather than perform critiques or teach someone how to develop an eye for what will be a good photograph.
Judging from his website, we felt that if anyone would be a good teacher, it would be Ming. We felt that the Outstanding Images course would be the most appropriate level for us, however, Ming assured us that we would be up to speed after watching the videos, and we signed up for the Masterclass.
Being in San Francisco, we assumed that the class would be mostly urban photography, which we had never really done. So our pre-work came in the form of watching the videos, and going in to the city to practice taking photos of buildings and people. I found that having to develop objectives for the class and then culling down to 10 images for the pre-class critique really crystallized the learning process, and made the critiques more valuable.
The critique of the student images on the first and last days of the masterclass was incredibly interesting and eye opening. Not only for the breadth of images, but also for discovering what others liked and didn’t like about images and also more importantly, Ming’s opinions on why an image works or doesn’t work, and why.
Critiques on compositional elements in the context of your own (and other student) images that are more subtle than the “rule of thirds” were incredibly instructive. Ming’s teaching style helped to guide us on how to make a strong image once the photographer decides what the primary subject is.
It turns out that San Francisco has so much available, that we really could have concentrated on landscape (micro-landscape), night photography, urban architecture, and/or street photography.
David and I teamed up to do one session of street and one session of landscape photography with Ming, and it was incredibly instructive to see how he works, and what he sees as potential subjects. And also what potential subjects just wouldn’t work for a technically good photograph and why.
We also had the opportunity to get together with Ming everyday at noon to get feedback on some curated images, and then he would give us general themes to work on, such as subject isolation, trying more vertical images, etc. The daily feedback was incredibly valuable, in that we knew what we wanted to do, but it was valuable to get feedback on whether we were successful meeting the objectives. This provided significant value added over his blog essays about composition, etc.
When Ming talks about the 4 things, the first item is light. For him, if the light isn’t good for the subject, he doesn’t even bother with the shot. From spending the week with Ming, I am now much more critical of the available light, and if I am taking photos in poor light, I know that it is just for practice. I now also have subject isolation engraved into my brain, with a much better idea of what I want to do to create a better composition. This understanding of what makes a good image has also helped me to delete photos.
I encourage anyone who has a chance to enroll in a class with Ming to go ahead and do so. It will be a great experience, and Ming really likes to teach!

David Pope (San Francisco Masterclass) – With a background in wildlife and landscape photography, I was a little intimidated at the prospect of attending a “master class” in San Francisco that would presumably force me out of my comfort zone in order to learn how to do street and people photography. Furthermore, having watched (and been highly impressed) by Ming’s Outstanding Images video series, I was wondering how much further the instructional material could be developed, given the nature of the workshop format and having 8 students with highly divergent goals…
On the first count, it turns out that in as diverse a location as San Francisco, one can (and we did) do all kinds of photography — street, architectural, landscape (including water, trees, and SF fog!), in addition to abstract and night photography. And Ming, fabulous teacher that he is, made it easy to learn how to do things I had never done in my photography before.
And on the second count (and quite obvious in hindsight), the Outstanding Images videos are just a foundational piece so one can benefit from the personalized syllabus of a Masterclass.
Beyond that, the workshop transforms Professorial Ming (on video) to Caffeinated Ming (in person), ablaze with so much enthusiasm for the craft of photography that you can’t help but be caught up in his energy. To be sure, this is a high intensity 6-day workshop, and you need to be willing to put in 10+ hour days in order to reap maximum benefit from Ming’s approach to photography.
Entering the workshop, my photographic goals were fuzzy — to “improve the rhythm and balance in my photos” — but we quickly zeroed in on improving my toolkit, so I worked on subject isolation, filling the entire frame so as to use the perspective of the lens properly (no cropping, groans Ming!), and using portrait orientation to create layers of depth within my photos.
Among the unanticipated benefits of the workshop: camaraderie with fellow students — seeing the images they created each day and learning from their honest critiques; the daily lunchtime review sessions with Ming to get instant feedback on scenes you just finished working; watching post-processing live, and realizing how little is necessary when an image is conceived of (and executed) properly; and shooting with Ming in the field — how he sizes up a scene that is either worth shooting (or not), what perspective and vantage point is chosen, how quickly he works, and the ruthlessness with which he discards an image that isn’t a 10 out of 10 in his mind’s eye. (The group even developed a new DxOMark standard — “mingsharp” — to denote an image reflecting enough Shot Discipline to be considered Ultraprint-worthy.)
Highly satisfied with the whole experience and looking forward to participating in another workshop in the future!

Scott Loftesness (San Francisco Masterclass) – Spending a week with Ming in my hometown of San Francisco was a unique learning experience. His focus on shooting precise, great images is intense – almost overbearing at times. But that’s what provides the stretch – the pull to do better, to get up to the next level. He’s a tough coach – pointing out flaws and compromises while urging a stronger commitment to shooting at a higher level. By the end of the week, I was exhausted – from the physical experience on the streets but also that feeling of good exhaustion that follows exploring the limits and pushing for better. My initial goal was to refine my personal style. Turns out Ming said I already had one. Instead he urged me to move beyond – to leave “stages” behind and to see more in three dimensions. This proved to be a big challenge – where I made some small progress but feel him looking over my shoulder urging me to see differently, to reduce my tendency to zoom, and, above all, to stop cropping in post!

Doug Kaye (San Francisco Masterclass) – I’ve been inspired by Ming Thein’s street photography for some time. I’ve learned quite a bit from his blog and videos, but I wanted to get a more personalized perspective on how I might integrate aspects of his approach to street photography with my own style. I got exactly what I wanted from the San Francisco Master Class.
Ming doesn’t hold back. He has strong opinions and let’s you know what you’re doing that works for him and what doesn’t. His criticism is always constructive, albeit within the scope of his own style. (Hey, that’s why you’re there, right?)
Having studied with a few other masters, I’ve learned important lessons from each of them. If you appreciate Ming’s images, if they inspire you as they do me, I highly recommend spending a week in this class.

Alex Ohta (Making Outstanding Images Chicago) – It’s been a couple days since we wrapped up the Making Outstanding Images workshop, and I’ve been reflecting on my experiences. I’ve wanted to attend one of these workshops for a while. Scheduling didn’t work for 2013, so I resigned myself to wait until a 2014 US workshop opened up. In the interim I read everything. And then I started downloading videos. I recommend watching and even practicing the concepts (including post processing) prior to attending the workshop, doing so makes the in person experience hugely rewarding.
The syllabus is well thought out. Despite starting with the basics, things ramp up very quickly. Each lesson layers over the previous, and by the end of day one all the core concepts were covered. Day two was a stretch for me – not only were we trying to abide by the lessons from day one, but we were also trying to apply stylistic choices. I personally found the group critique and post processing sessions on the final day to be invaluable.
The most liberating part of the whole experience is that I no longer feel frustrated with my output. I find myself just wanting to shoot – subject doesn’t matter, the more diverse and challenging the better. I’ve also got a road map for growth for the next six to twelve months.
Thanks Ming & fellow classmates for a great couple days. I’m eagerly awaiting a 2015 masterclass schedule.

Dan Tamarkin (Making Outstanding Images Chicago) – An exceptional workshop in the qualities that make an image outstanding and the process of creating them. Personalized and immediate, this workshop is invaluable instruction, and Ming Thien’s direct instruction and constructive feedback are as useful as the atmosphere is positive and nurturing. Highly recommended – a joy to participate in.

Steve Child (Making Outstanding Images Chicago) – Ming’s teaching style is methodical and easy to understand. After the first day I began to see in an entirely new way and it was reflected in my photographs. An amazing experience!

David Kimmel (Making Outstanding Images Chicago) – The recent ‘Making Outstanding Images’ class in Chicago was a truly amazing experience made so entirely by Ming’s outstanding skills as an instructor. The course quickly identifies the elements lacking from your images but it also raises your awareness of the things that you are doing on pure intuititon. Only when we are fully conscious of the elements that make strong images, can our photography improve. This is accomplished primarily through Ming’s ability to quantify the many elements found in strong images and describe them in an approachable way that only a truly experienced photographer with the gift of exposition could. The course is extremely challenging forcing you to face your shortcomings while enhancing your strengths. Ming shares openly from his vast experience in virtually all areas of photography without a sense that anything is held back. His energy seems boundless and his enthusiam is infectious inspiring you to shake off the despair you might feel from seeing dozens of duds on your memory cards and forge ahead to create the images you have always wanted to make. The course does indeed teach you How To See, a skill that will last a lifetime of shooting.

Jack Siegel (Making Outstanding Images Chicago) – Enjoyed the class, particularly the last day. I always get a lot out of group review and editing. Not using the stamp anymore should keep file size smaller, as is the new improved dodging and burning tool (rather than the overlay layer). Very helpful. Will try out when I get back from Paris.

John Anderson (Making Outstanding Images Chicago) – Thanks for a great workshop!

Stephan Ralescu (Making Outstanding Images Chicago) – Thank you for such a great experience. I will definitely attend a master class workshop.


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  1. Fantastic work all of you. Having had the pleasure of the Outstanding Images Experience in Prague last year, I can relate to how you all feel! And for those on the Masterclass…you poor, brave souls!! 6 days with Ming set to 11!!! Can’t wait for my turn (though I will have to…for now)…

  2. The San Francisco images are, in general, outstanding, of a very high level!
    My favorites from both cities are the 2 captures involving a tree and a person (both superb with their two totally different approaches, one frontal, another one through a reflexion), the artist putting on make-up and the one-way image.
    Hanoi or Singapore are within my reach if dates allow! (preferably the former, as I have never been there) 😉

  3. A very impressive selection of images. Speaks well of both students and instructor.

  4. Sid - The Wanderer says:

    Absolutely wonderful shots Ming! I really like the black and white shot with the shadow of a man on the wall…

  5. Jay Ahuja says:

    Mr Thein, how about a 2015 workshop in Austin, Texas? Thank you.

    Sent from Jay’s iPhone Austin, Texas


  6. How refreshing to see images from participants of this standard. They are far and above the usual some folk post following their inputs to attendees. This goes to show that the value in attending is worth the money.

    I appreciate that some of these attendees may be very good anyway and what you provide is the final jigsaw piece but credit where it’s due, they are an excellent selection. It is usual a struggle to find one great image on some ” course ” sites, here I struggled to find a bad one such was the standard. I would add I have no connection to Ming I’m just a guy who pops by on occasion to view what’s on show. If it’s bad or mediocre I will say, these are anything but, well done Ming and especially well done your students.

  7. Thank you for sharing participant images! Additionally thank you for a glimpse at possible future locations as well as the opportunity to vote. It leaves me wanting to pack my bags!

  8. Ron Scubadiver says:

    Some of my favorite Chicago locations are represented and I have done a lot of street photography there. As usual, all guys in the class. My advice for Venice is shoot early in the morning or after 4:30 PM because during most of the day the place is packed with cruise ship passengers. If things are getting too crowded, head off to the peripheral areas. The Jewish quarter is particularly good.

  9. DJK3205 (the elder man in the bar’s terrace) is my preferedd one. Great light, great vision, impeccable composition. Congratulation to the author. The other I really liked is the seagull on the stairs… it’s the first really different seagull photo I saw in years. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you ever so much for your kind words. It was also Ming’s instruction and help with post-processing that helped to maximize this image’s potential.
      Another student saw the same gentleman at the same time that I did. Just after we took our photos, the subject became aware that he had been photographed and became extremely annoyed and walked off in a huff wearing a scowl. Not at all the same gentle expression he had at this moment.
      Thanks again for your kind words. They are very encouraging.
      And thanks to Ming and all my classmates for making those three days so truly extraordinary. Everyone in the class, without exception, was supportive and encouraging. A testament, I think, to Ming and the community that he has brought together through this site.

  10. John weeks says:

    Beautiful images…As all have stated I can almost feel the growth and experience with a hint of excitement as their creativity came to light…so to speak. Those who get to partake in this really are fortunate. Must be a tremendous experience. Well done all….and a totally different theme and experience from the few class seminars I have attended. Ming has a very passionate, sincere and technical aspect of teaching that comes out through the videos I have purchased so the ” in person” Ming must multiply that experience x 10.

  11. Your images proves the worth of Ming’s teachings and workshops. You have made truly stunning images all of you. Many of them I would so much have liked to have shot myself. Bravo, excellent work!
    Your feedback on the courses is highly appreciated and in many ways demystify what to expect from attending a workshop like a Masterclass for instance. I am attending the Venice Masterclass t.y. and still have my worries clarifying what I actually want to focus on, but way less after having read all of your feedback.

    • Thanks Gerner – looking forward to working with you again in Venice. A piece of advice though, if I may: focus on what you want to achieve and the images you like, not the framework of those who came before…everybody is different.

  12. Saturnine Zero says:

    There are some seriously good shots there. Many are ideas I like and pursue myself, not with great success. Hats off to whoever shot the long exposure of the Golden Gate bridge, that’s a killer shot.

    Maybe one day, if I ever get another job, I might take a class in Sydney=p

  13. This is some good advertising! Made me vote for a location. The masterclass images are definitely not all MT clones, but have that air of excellence. Including the student photos is also a refreshing addition to the site.

  14. That chicago bench shot is great! My favourite of all of these. Would love to convert to B&W to focus on the geometry.

  15. Wonderful photos everyone!


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