Photoessay: Singapore color

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Singapore: a neatly organized life

Today’s photoessay has no theme beyond the observation of life as a flaneur in Singapore; in this case during in-between time from a teaching assignment a couple of months ago. You’ll notice this set of images is broken up into two distinct styles; the first series is more along the lines of what I do now – humans in environment; life in context; ‘people in sauce’. It is visually flatter, a little more structured, painterly, and perhaps almost aperspective in some ways. I like to think of the presentation as something akin to a more dynamic version of the traditional still life. The second set is unashamedly cinematic.

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A lack of definition around the existence and purpose of Corporate Man

Curiously, though I do a reasonable amount of work for clients in this style, and it’s one of the most popular things I teach, I personally have been moving away from it for some time; perhaps partially out of saturation/ boredom, or more likely because of personal aesthetic and artistic preferences. I am also gravitating towards scenes with stronger geometry or more context for a more complete story or the ability to convey a more complex idea or philosophical question; it’s actually difficult to do this in a single cinematic frame because it’s very difficult to create one with all of the elements in the frame, rather than the feeling of the elements. The cinematic style, to me, works best in a series or sequence of images, not so much as standalones. An additional part of the reason for me moving away from cinematic is probably because I’m being increasingly strict on curation; standalones are preferable from a variety standpoint and also printed presentation. Nevertheless, I believe these sets actually work quite well together for precisely this reason; there is a contrast in presentation style, but the quality of light and color tends to link them together. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D800E and AFS 70-200/4 VR.

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Avoiding hazards

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At ease

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Cutout stereotypes

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High life

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Much of the world makes no sense to a child

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Summer rain I

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Summer rain II

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An ugly disagreement

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I am Godot

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Implied headspace

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Shock and surprise…

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…is usually preceded by cunning.


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


  1. I think this is your best set yet! I love the focus on people. For me, having people in the photos invokes emotions that make these images more memorable. I’m curious to see if you can get the same kinds of photos up close with something like a 50mm or 35mm instead of from far away at 200mm. I think your subjects will be even more positive. In “impatience” and “an ugly disagreement” it almost seems that the subjects have become aware that you’re photographing them (or their kids) with a telephoto lens and are creeped out. However, the telephoto aspect works very well for old men playing their games.

    • No, you can’t. The perspective is very different between 50mm and 200mm. You lose the compression.

      • Totally agree with the compression. But I’m curious if you can get even more emotion in the images at closer range. I mean the emotion in the image, rather than the perspective.

        • Well, the other extreme end would be to stuff a WA in somebody’s face and capture that emotion (oh wait, Gilden already did that) – but it doesn’t have the same aesthetic. I don’t want the emotion here; I want that ordered calmness/ detachment that you only get when you’re tangentially observing somebody who isn’t aware of you and at peace with themselves in their own little bubble. I’ve done plenty of street work at 28mm – I usually work at 28mm – and it produces images a very different feeling because the subject is physically larger in the frame so facial expressions are clearer, and they’re also usually aware of you.

  2. Very nice

  3. Agree on ‘Cunning’, great lighting on that one…

  4. Laxman Mestry says:

    Cinematic. Great work. Can I achieve such quality photos to some extent with my Canon 6D? Especially colours. According to Dxomark, its colour Depth is 23.8 bit
    Keep inspiring.

  5. +1 for Cunning.

    Ahem. What happened to the article titled “Being Prolific”, Ming? Did that one fly the coup before it was ready?


    • Yep. WP has been having some issues on my end lately – couldn’t access anything in the back end via the PC yesterday, but the iOS app was fine. Odd…

  6. Masterly and delightful as always.

  7. A particularly great set, even by your lofty standards MT. Some absolute composition masterclasses in there. “Cutout Stereotypes”…could the people have arranged themselves any more perfectly if you had been able to direct them yourself??! 😀

    And agreed with Grant…definitely “Gollumesque”!

  8. Stunning, especially “Summer rain”

  9. dynasynergy says:

    Wonderful moments & ambience !

  10. No less than stunning work Ming. I agree with Andre the first set is breathtakingly good street photography where I applause The Four Things excecuted to perfection. The Cinematic set is as usual Ming At Best and breaths out mood in spades. Again my hat off for your eye and timing.
    The fact you have used your 70-200 mm cements my thoughts about investing in a tele zoom since I would overcome my fears getting to close to people to have my shot. The dash of DOF as one of the isolation remedies I heartly welcome

    • Thanks Gerner!

    • Well, ‘overcoming the fear’ is really not what you do by avoiding the problem staying well distant from your subject….
      Telephoto plane compression has its aestethic merits, so why not, enjoy it if it’s your cup of tea.
      But it still leaves a sense of ‘stolen’, paparazzi approach that puts it in a different category than wider angle shots in the middle of the action.
      Not passing judgement, by all means. I used to love my Nikkor 105, when I was younger and shy-ier. And 85-105 is a great way to do portraits.
      But street, well, find me a street master from HCB onwards that went longer than 50mm…

      • It feels different – observer vs participant – it’s also difficult to get in context with a tele. But there are some times when you just can’t get close enough for other reasons, for instance photographing your clients’ workers handling hazardous materials…

  11. Really liking Singapore a Neatly Organized Life. Great image and series Ming!

  12. These are great images. You were using a D800E, so I have a question, were they hand-held or did you use a tripod or monopod? I have a really hard time getting images this crisp with my D800 when hand-held.

    • Thanks – all handheld.

    • I find with the D800E that you have to perhaps pay more attention to the shutter speed, even with VR because that does not affect subject movement. I note the pic of the cherry picker with OCBC building in the background was taken at 1/250 but with ISO pushed above 2000. So I would err on the side of a faster shutter for a crisper image. (Of course, just one of many points including lens quality…)

  13. The cinematic stuff is lovely as usual but I’m really excited by where you’re going with the first few images!

  14. Looking at these photos and reading your text really puts what I’ve been doing recently into words.. I’ll suspect you’ll be getting an email from me soon, my peers as well as my professor really seemed to enjoy my last project!

  15. Always like Singapore pictures 😄
    “Cunning” is great, a nice capture with the handphone lighting the, what can only be described as, “Gollumesque” expression. 😉

  16. I like this color set MT! “A lack of definition around the existence and purpose of Corporate Man” very much so. Also if Summer Rain 1 doesn’t end up in a travel mag or book cover (properly lic & paid, of course; ) I’d be blown away

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