Photoessay: dead tree beach

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Skeleton and ghosts. The monochromes in this set were processed to be as natural as possible using my ‘balanced’ workflow in The Monochrome Masterclass.

Today’s photoessay comes from a beach near Banting, on the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia and about an hour and a half’s drive out of Kuala Lumpur. I’ve been to this location in the 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 day, to have some more time to work with it before the fast-moving tide ended play*.

*It’s a mangrove beach, which means extremely shallow gradients and even quicker tides – I’ve seen it come in at about a foot every three to four seconds. Not somewhere you want to be stuck in the middle of a long exposure!

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Ordered debris

Even with the tide coming in, I felt it was an interesting location to work with something faster and more conducive to being experimental simply because the landscape changed every few minutes thanks to subtle declivities in the sand getting filled in, and creating reflections or moving water elements which could be exploited with ND filters. A little while ago, my schedule and the water cooperated and allowed me to go back and spend an productive and satisfying afternoon there. Sadly, it’s fairly rare that I actually have the time to shoot for purely creative purposes these days. I packed the Pentax 645Z, 35/3.5 A manual focus, Hasselblad Zeiss FE 2/110 on an adaptor, the 55/2.8 SDM, and a manual focus 150/3.5 A. The 645Z is an excellent camera for these purposes because you can shoot with it as quickly or as slowly as you like; mirror up and live view only and treat it like a view camera, or handheld with auto ISO and AF – it’s up to you. I was mostly on a tripod – of late, the RRS TVC-24L and Arca-Swiss Cube for the ultimate portable combination of height, weight, stability and precision of movement – because I also used between 7 and 10 stop ND filters.

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The other side

You’ll notice that this set has a lot fewer images than normal for one of my photoessays; the simple reason is tighter curation, and I wanted each image to have its own distinct personality. I spent about three hours in total there, and enough to go from a fairly harsh light that was just the right side of directional, to a warm twilight glow from the sun over the horizon reflecting off the last clouds of the day. I’d like to go back again sometime, but when the tide is going out, or in the middle of the day – for different light – with an even stronger ND filter for 30s+ exposures in daylight.

As always, Ultraprints of images from this set are available – just drop me a note. Enjoy! MT

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Tranquility ever after

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Making inroads

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Way out

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Bubbles of mystery

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On reflection

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The almost-pierced yolk


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


  1. The place is lovely and your pictures wonderful! The moving of the water and the sea treasures are great things to focus on and the results turned out to be quite interesting!

  2. Your joy permeates the work! Thank you for sharing this mangrove beach. Mangroves make me think of visible root systems rather than solitary tree trunks. There is very little to suggest the tropic. Inspiring!

  3. Jorge Balarin says:

    Superb set.

  4. The first one does it for me, has that empty lonely feeling like somewhere out of space…

  5. Very nice Ming. Drawn to the more minimal compositions personally. Great work!

  6. Jay Swartzfeger says:

    On Reflection is haunting. For some reason it made me think ‘Holga’ and Henri Cartier-Bresson in the same breath (had it been b/w). With every essay, my resistance to buy an ultraprint slowly withers. War of attrition, I guess. 🙂

  7. A good series showing the effectiveness of ‘simple’ balanced compositions. A rather tranquil series. Not many people about?

  8. Inspiring series. I am often in mangrove areas and find them challenging – and never once occurred to me to try monochrome approach! While your setting is marvelously expansive, isolated and serene my local areas are more compact,and bordering suburbia or a major motorway which gives it a bit more of a dramatic struggle for survival feel. I will keep this article in mind when I next am down on the mudflats!

  9. hi sifu,
    marvellous photoessay set from you on this place. i really like it there, so spacious and peaceful, a chance discovery on one of my many visits to the area’s coastline. in the evenings (dusk to twilight), the mangrove stumps look really eerie, I have posted a shot here . (did not take that many shots that day as i as not well prepared – family day out). to have more knowledge on the day’s tide, you can check out the daily tidal report here . if you are going back, how about bringing me along 😉 ? learn a few tricks from sifu, beers and seafood dinner on me 🙂 .
    best regards,

  10. Way Out is an excellent contemplative image, MM 🍀

  11. Monochrome certainly captures the mood. No distractions and to the point.

  12. Love this series Ming. At times simplicity and balance is just what we need.

  13. This is gorgeous work, especially because so much of it is subtle and unforced.

  14. Wonderful images. Looks like a great place to enjoy.

  15. Really beautiful essay.

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