Photoessay: Urban vignettes

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Late night negotiations

I’ve put together this set as a sort of compilation of singles that worked at the time, but perhaps needed company to work as a photoessay; the problem is, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can go out and look to shoot specifically: it either happens, or it doesn’t. It’s taken me some time to accumulate a decent number of images to present as a series here. I like to think of them as little slices of life, with both a bit of whimsy and perhaps something to make you think; beyond that, there also has to be something aesthetically pleasing about them – a sense of balanced tranquility, if you will. Enjoy! MT

Shot with various cameras over the last year and a half, including some I was merely testing and others I no longer own.

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The party never stops

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The meeting

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The Tailors

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After the bath

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Not for the fire

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Parked afternoon

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Concentrated soup

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Not something you see everyday

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Day’s end

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Plenty of warnings

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In quarters

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Untitled metal, I

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Untitled metal, II

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Wheelbarrow Mondrian


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


  1. Enjoyed all photos quite a lot. They have not only good framing, but also almost perfect balance, for my taste at least. Quite often when i’m looking at photos online they either “pop” too much or simply too flat. Now there is big boom to lift shadows as much as possible everywhere, nice to see some rich and juicy shadows 🙂 What also is amazing that you used different cameras, but all photos have same feel.

    “Late night negotiations” looks like a simple scene, but captured the most of my attention. Certainly my favorite, amazing work!

    I’m still struggling to make photos from different time feel same, getting closer to make photos look how i want them, but still almost always i get this feeling ‘something is missing’. I guess biggest problem is experience, i want to go out and shoot everyday, but sadly i can’t, at best few times per month there is enough time. Anyway, will be reading your blog from now on 🙂

  2. Very well conceived project both in vision and execution! I enjoyed it very much.

  3. Love your images and vision! Nice to see a submission like this that is less focused on the gear and more on the images. It would be enjoyable to read how you come to “see” these images before taking the photos. Things like what you were thinking, what motivated you and what caught your eye.

    • Thanks. We produced a series of videos for that purpose because it is very difficult to adequately but unbiasedly describe the surrounding environment. Much easier to see it for yourself.

  4. City-life subjects always give good soul.

  5. Dirk De Paepe says:

    “it either happens, or it doesn’t”
    Photography is the only artform that can register and freeze momentarily situations out of real life, isolate them, as such giving them a life on their own. This process is under the control of the photographer, thus creating a (less or more) powerful communication, or in other words a peace (wether or not great) artwork. Because this is an ability unique to photography, I believe that this is a major “branch” of photography. This is of course my personal opinion, but the logic that “proves my statement” is pretty irrefutable. So you won’t be surprised to hear that I am very fond of this kind of photography.
    The aesthetical aspect can be pretty tough, and, IMO, it’s exactly in this department that your pictures excel. Who would have expected anything else…

    • Thank you! A lot of the time I feel the work is in the seeing; the composition is already there, my job is to isolate it.

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Well, I’m glad that I can totally agree with this. The frames are there and they constantly evolve. It’s a matter of seeing, instantly framing and timing. The “happening” is determining your timing. This has the consequence that it’s impossible to always be at the optimal place. And that’s why I believe some cropping afterwards is justified. Still I think that in that case the photographer ought to see the (crop)frame inside his (photo)frame. I fear that maybe you will disagree here…

  6. Peter Boender says:

    Hey Ming, thanks for this post. It gives me lots to pause and think about (and the last thing I may do too much when it comes to photography).
    First off, and I don’t mean any disrespect, many of the scenes represented here, I see a lot too in all the world cities I travel to. I photograph quite a few of them too. But somehow, many times my own pictures are not as strong as yours. So, I’m studying why that is. So far my conclusion: a lot of it is (1) framing, (2) the right moment and (3) post-processing. Which gives me hope, because with attention and patience, it can be accomplished. Not to copy your pictures and style, but at my own personal level. Practise, practise, practise… So thanks for being the gifted photographer and giving teacher that you are!
    Secondly, and this has already been mentioned in earlier replies, I also fail to see the overall binding factor in this set. I love many of the images (Late night negotiations, The party never stops, The meeting, After the bath, Not something you see everyday, Plenty of warnings, Skyline [utter brilliance!!] andWheelbarrow Mondrian), but as a set I feel they are a bit forced into a singular theme. Personally I would put the people pictures separate from the more industrial and semi-abstract work.
    Anyways, just my 2 (Euro)cents. Lots to admire here (again!) and plenty of conversation starters, which is an accomplishment for a photography blog in itself. As, always, looking forward to the next installment.

    • That didn’t come across as disrespectful at all – every scene/subject is fair game to the interpretation of anybody; whether that interpretation translates or not is the difference 🙂

      I think though in those three things you’ve basically covered it all – even light is affected by timing. And I started out pretty horrible too, until I spent a lot of time analysing exactly why some of my images worked and some didn’t. And that hurdle of ‘what works’ changes as you evolve as a photographer.

  7. “Late night negotiations” and “Wheelbarrow Mondrian” = brilliance.

    Thank you for continuing to inspire me.

  8. Nikolay Karev says:

    Great job as usually, but I am starting to miss old good Ming with lots of gear reviews and “technique/opinion” articles.

    • Reviews are getting a) a dime a dozen, b) expensive to produce, c) I don’t have the time to do it properly (otherwise, why do it at all?) and d) there isn’t really that much which is exciting these days…

      • I hear you and 100% understand that writing them is not an easy thing done in 5 min. Just expressed what I’m missing in recent time 🙂 And yep, not that much interesting gear recently (especially in m43 camp :))

        • Peter Boender says:

          Hmmm, I think the Panasonic LX100, Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro and Voigtländer 10.5mm f/0.95 are pretty interesting as far as m43 goes. While we await the Olympi M.Zuiko’s 7-14 f/2.8 Pro and 300mm f/4.0 Pro…

  9. Beautiful to sublime; most enjoyable.

  10. I thought the first photograph was stunning and intriguing, filled with atmosphere and nostalgia.
    The rest were meh, whether individually or as a collective.
    I get the two mirrors and two frames, the eyes of the coffeeshop people forming a circular movement, the neon sign pointing to the two ladies, the mirror aunties, the elevator-like progression of the small square openings of the building enforcing the verticality of the fireworks, etc., still, i think they are reasonable images at best, not quite worthy of mingthien.

    • Have you perhaps considered that some of the images rely too much on its title to complete the image? Creative ad people have a tendency to do that will images.

      • will > with

      • No, it depends on the intention. I don’t always use titles and I’m not an ‘ad person’.

        • Hi Ming

          You have slowed your reviews. One about printing from home would be interesting (or maybe I have been missing something)?

          Good you have started to think about art with the gallery, but you need an editor. You seem to be working too hard (and we have to thank you for that), and do not step back enough to differentiate between the good, the bad and the ugly. The good is what moves people, not the graphically or technically good (which can be ugly). There are two good photos above in my view (but I am no gallerist, just someone who loves to hear critics about my own photos to pick up the few (if any) that might be interesting).

          Another suggestion? Maybe restrict your shooting to one lens with one camera for a week/month or more for your art work (and spend time editing, reframing, etc…). There would come consistency of vision as it is difficult to follow your work as it is a bit of a “mess” visually (on the artistic side only!).

          I am sure you (and your fans will) find all this offensive, but it is precisely because some of your photos are good that I have been writing it.

          Good luck

          • I’ve slowed down reviews because equipment doesn’t interest me as much as making images. There are plenty of other ‘photographers’ websites for that. I don’t print from home, I collaborate with a print master – I’ve written a lot of articles on that, so yes, you have been missing something.

  11. John weeks says:

    All beautiful…
    Skyline is ….. Wow…genius
    Late night negotiations…classic masterpiece with Ming touch.

  12. I don’t really see a strong connection between these images to work as a unified series, but they are individually strong nonetheless, and some of them are excellent!

    • It’s the randomness that connects them at an idea level. The problem is presenting them as individual images doesn’t really work either…

  13. I love the colour in ‘late night negotiations’ – the colour supports and reinforces the overall mood of the image.
    Did you ‘bend’ the colour in any way, or is that more or less as photographed?

    • Slightly enhanced, but mostly already there. If you bend it too much, then commonly recognizable objects look odd – which becomes a giveaway…

  14. Your Wheelbarrow Mondrian can hang proudly next to any Robt Rauschenberg in any art gallery. Fabulous!

  15. Excellent collection Ming.

  16. A Master’s work.

    *Late night negotiations* still is one of my many favorites. Beyond just class.
    *Untitled metal, I* Impressive tonality and pop. Tight composition and it does it for me.
    *In quarters* Yes, I like this kind of fine art photography. Four stories in four quadrants. Genious.
    *After the bath* Such an atmospheric image. Mood, harmony, clean, warm and well balanced.

  17. A brilliant and also quite ‘painterly’ series – from your Edward Hopper-esque opening shot – to the final geometrical wheelbarrow which is your Mondrian tribute. But I will confess that, scrolling down the ‘page’ of this series of images, when I came to ‘Skyline’ – the reflections in the dark car – my jaw almost literally dropped. It’s such a complex and wonderful photograph – images within images within images – it quite floored me.

    And, being a writer myself…..the image titles are both charming, whimsical, astute, a propose….and spot on.

  18. Ditto Wheelbarrow, but Skyline was very intriguing. At first I saw the car in profile against a warped skyline, but then I finally saw that it was the roof reflection I was looking at..

  19. Very nice series.

  20. Interesting series of images, and the featured image is quite captivating. I hate to ask, but since you are featuring some GR images, I had two questions for you about shooting with the GR. First, do you tend to heavily work the image settings before hand (like I suspect that you would with something like a D810), or are you working quickly to capture the moment and relying on the camera and your settings to give you some leeway? And, more importantly, how do you have your LCD adjusted so it is viewable in bright light? I have had my GR for about 9 months now, and I am still finding it hard to compose in bright light.



    • Not sure what you mean by work the settings – if it’s the image/processing/color, no, it’s all shot raw; otherwise, I spot meter, single point AF, auto ISO and program mode or manual all the way depending on contrast and how fast light is changing. You have to work reasonably fast regardless. Even if there is some latitude left over, using it to recover a shot will result in worse image quality and possibly not enough tonal information in some cases.

      • Sorry for the somewhat cryptic post. By “work the image”, I was referring, albeit in a simplified manner, to a shot that involved more advance set-up than a “capture the moment” fast grab for which the Ricoh GR is often chosen by many “street” photographers. The latter often results in a lower keeper (or lower IQ) rate for many, but you seem to have found the sweet spot on that continuum as your images do not seem to lack IQ for a shot that appears candid.

        Ironically, my latter question about the LCD was related to the former, as I find it quite challenging to work quickly in bright settings as I cannot easily see the LCD, and this was the problem that I was hoping to address as I continue to work on my technique with my GR. It is an unpleasant reminder that I really prefer working with an OVF or EVF. LCD screens are a real challenge, but the GR just drives me to overcome this challenge.



        • I try to avoid grabs for the reason you mentioned – they just look sloppy and with poor IQ. I’d rather let it go if I’m not going to be happy with the final product than produce a compromised one.

          I actually like the LCD on the GR simply because it’s much easier to preview exposure, but there’s always a whole range of hotshoe finders to solve your problem otherwise…

  21. Ken Benshish says:

    Love the Wheelbarrow Mondrian. Nice capture!

  22. Excellent work Ming! Really enjoy the photos.

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