Photoessay: The Arrow River delta

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This little gem of a location is perhaps one of the most photographically rich places I’ve ever been to. Firstly, an hour on an overcast grey day that yielded a couple of interesting images and very cold fingers, then the better part of an entire afternoon and evening in the gorge as the light fell and the mountains turned gold and the shadows a deep blue. I spent a magical few hours watching the light change, and towards the end of the day, running around like a madman trying to capture the last glowing tips of the trees before the sun went behind the ridge line for good.

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Evening glow I

Arrowtown was an early pioneer of Otago’s gold rush in the 1800s; that somewhat petered out and now it’s a pleasant little tourist town with an excellent restaurant or two. The river itself goes through a broad delta made up of coarse rocks and sand that filters whatever meltwater comes out of the glaciers; gold gets deposited in the eddies, and cue the madness. Photographically, the mix between open/ closed/ curved/ tree-lined areas makes it extremely appealing, and the character changes as you walk a mere couple of hundred meters through the gorge. I attempt to reproduce the feeling vicariously here, and of course some of these images are also available as Ultraprints. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a D810, Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar, Pentax 645Z and 55/2.8 SDM.

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The hole

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Taking a break

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The tree, I

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Rush hour

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Alpenforest in winter

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The tree, II

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The golden line

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Blueprint for trees


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


  1. Reblogged this on Eileen Lyn Wah.

  2. Reblogged this on Eileen Lyn Wah.

  3. It really is a great spot for photography – I went in the fall with all the trees in full colour and it was stunning.

  4. Kristian Wannebo says:

    I find it hard to pick favourites, but I think these, because they come alive for me :
    Rush hour
    Alpenfrost in winter
    The golden line,

    and these for their magic (for me) :
    The tree, I
    Blueprint for trees.

    – – –

    ( Btw, Alpenfrost in winter appears twice.)

  5. I looked through these images and others in the series on your account. As always, they are well captured and nicely composed. What I found interesting was my own emotional reaction, and that was a profound sense of bleakness. The images were, of course, shot in the NZ winter, and the light was very blue – but also, they were rendered in a very accurate, seemingly almost desaturated way. This is the same rendering you use in your urban scenes to profound effect in your portrayal of the detachment of life in the city, but it seemed a jarring dissonance to the natural subject matter, stripping down the scenes to an almost mechanical purity that didn’t seem quite right.

    I then realized that almost all landscape scenes published are heavily processed and the color palette overly saturated or skewed towards the romantic rather than realistic. Under cloudy winter skies, colors do become steely and cold. Even the setting sun is not enough to warm them to an accustomed natural color. This is the way that area actually looked. It made me rethink how much my emotions related to winter mountain scenes colors my reaction to pictures of those areas – I perceive them much more warmly.

    An interesting exercise in expectation and emotion.

    • Thanks for the thoughts – yes, most landscape images we see today are HDR’d to some extent and almost always dialled up to 11. It’s almost gotten to the point that one is slightly disappointed when you visit locations like the Grand Canyon because it’s nothing as dramatic or vivid as it is usually depicted in images, unless you happen to be there at the time of some truly exceptional light.

      Interesting that you saw bleakness – I was going for accuracy/transparency, as always – to the extent of photographing a color checker on location for reference and matching saturation and tone as much as possible afterwards. There is no desaturation even with my urban work; I simply try to get as close as possible to reality. The impression of desaturation is probably caused by relativity to other images, as you noticed…

      • I suppose one of the reasons why Velvia was one of the most popular film stocks of the era, even though it was purposely oversaturated and contrasty. I usually shot Provia, which damped down the shouting to a more tolerable level.

        This is also, I think, one of the things that turns off a lot of new photographers to the Nikon camp…the “greenish”, rather flat rendering of Nikon’s Standard or Neutral Picture Controls. It’s actually a very accurate, neutral rendering, as advertised – and those accustomed to the overly warm renderings of Nikon’s competitors complain loudly until they discover Vivid and/or a colorchecker. When I saw the images in these series, I instantly thought, “wow – this looks a lot like Nikon Standard straight out of the camera”. My emotional reaction to this Picture Control is one of detached clinicality – at least when it’s properly sharpened.

        Interesting how expectation and conditioning get in the way of seeing…

        • That makes two of us – I used Velvia on overcast flat days, but most of the time shot Provia 🙂

          Nikon Standard gets the color accurate, but the tonal transitions are too flat – there’s no non-linearity at either end of the range (shoulder/toe), and this is what kills it for me. In any case, I run my own calibrated ACR profile that completely ignores the picture controls. There are some situations where the camera by default (or white balance, perhaps) neutralises color too much; sunsets, for example, come out much more desaturated than reality.

          • Good point about the tone curve. I went back to look at my D7100’s curve and was surprised to find that it was extremely shallow and yes, more abrupt at the shoulder than most other cameras – including the D5300, which has a slightly higher slope and slightly more rounded shoulders. The D750, on the other hand, appears to have a more contrasty base curve (looks like an error in the DPR graph). None of the APS-C cameras match the Oly for shoulder extension, though.

            No wonder I kept kicking up the contrast and squashing the highlights in LR.

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            I never thought about the colours, i.e. I thought them natural.
            Except that the sky (and thus the water) seems very blue in some directions; but that is, I guess, an effect of geografical latitude and air quality.
            But then I seldom look at photos on the internet…
            ( My Fuji XF1 usually wants to be set at Provia with Colour -1. 🙂 )

  6. Anatoly Loshmanov says:

    Thank for shearing. Very interesting vision.
    “Simplicity” at the best.
    Sincerely, Anatoly

  7. Cool pics man!
    Just got hands on a D810, and having had a D800 (which I actually still own as a back up) is a world apart in many areas. Worth of upgrading!

  8. Beautiful images!

  9. Ming.. this series is awesome. I saw some of the Ultraprints and they show clearly the incredible colors and light you mention here. The clarity in these images is astounding and beyond words to describe. I really don’t know what photography would mean to me if I didn’t print some of my stuff. It is my only goal to make some stunners and print them. My web record is merely just for fun and my eyes doesn’t dwell at one single shot I’ve made just staring at my monitor.

    • Thanks Gerner – yes, web jpegs do not even come close. But that’s no surprise as we’ve got about 0.5 megapixel here, which is barely 1% of the total information captured 🙂

  10. Wonderful Set Ming! Love the images of nature.

  11. Excellent images, as alway’s! But it would be nice to Identity the images made with which camera/lens system. On the normal monitor there is no difference.

    • There won’t be at an 800px web sized jpeg. That is not the aim for the images, it’s always been to print. If you click through to flickr, there is EXIF data intact.


  1. […] strong locations that yield a large number of views and images (something similar happened in the Arrow River Delta outside Queenstown, New Zealand); they feel like brief chance encounters with random strangers with […]

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