Photoessay: Abstraction and reflection in Chicago

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Only one place in Chicago…

I think without reflections, urban photography and architecture would be pretty boring. There’d certainly be no opportunity for the sort of ‘continuity errors’ that make for interesting juxtapositions and impossible geometries; the kind of thing that adds depth, complexity and texture to a scene. These were shot in Chicago with a GR, 645Z, D810 and Otus 85 and processed with PS Workflow II. Enjoy! MT

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Internal support

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Not quite a mirror image

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Even the innocent hide secrets

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Lyrical escape

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Water, I

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Water, II

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Symmetry of content but not geometry


Turn the mood and style up to 11: the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass in association with Zeiss (21-26 July and 28 July-2 August inclusive) is now open for registration – click here to book and for more information.


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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


  1. robert allen schambach says:

    I am not sure that you mind me posting a photo on your site but if not here is a photo with lot’s of reflections

  2. Lucy March says:

    P.S. Given the preponderance of men in your photography world, I’m kind of glad you will be surrounded by females at home. No doubt they will keep you on your toes!

  3. Kenneth Scholz says:

    You certainly found some nice reflections. We saw many intriguing examples while on the Chicago Architectural Society river boat tour, but from a moving platform one has to shoot fast, though it’s a good opportunity for reflection videos.

    Here’s a Google link to more Chicago reflections: ks

    • Sadly boats aren’t stable enough if you want precision or optimal image quality…

      • Kenneth Scholz says:

        Agreed. What I found most interesting from the boat was the kinetic element – reflections from windows and glass walls rippling as they moved in and out of view. A very dynamic experience which some of your images evoked (Illusion, Water I and II).

  4. Tom Forker says:

    Being by inclination and chosen locale a photographer of natural reflections, I am nevertheless always captivated by your urban skyscapes. I hope (without imagining it necessarily to be so) that the architects who created these reflecting pools in the sky were previsioning the rectilinear pools and patterns of light that you capture wherever you go. I like to think that I could find the stillness within that would let me see those images in the midst of the curbside trajectories. Many thanks for sharing these with us.

    • Thank you. I’m pretty sure the architects think about the primary light, but reflections of reflections of surroundings that change? I suspect there is a large dose of serendipity here. Not that I am complaining!

  5. Lucy March says:

    Thanks for the tip, Ming. She’s beautiful!

  6. I can’t pick favs either. Excellent. Never thought reflections on modern glass buildings can look so strangely beautiful. You certainly have an eye for beauty.

  7. Lucy march says:

    The first image is amazing, Ming. You have such a wonderful eye for reflections.
    Now if we could just see a baby picture, even a baby reflected in a window . . . 🙂

  8. Dear Ming

    Thank you for taking time for so many of us.

    Could use a little help. Sony a7II or Fuji Xt1? or would you suggest something else?

    +Father Raphael

    • Tough choice, and neither are perfect. I’d prefer the ergonomics of the XT1, but the sensor of the A7II…both land up being compromises though, one because of APS-C, the other because of raw file compression. I’d go with whichever feels better to you in hand…

      • Thank you very much. I think I’ll stick with my Nikon D3200 and Ricoh GR4 until things settle down a bit more. Let me add to your well deserved accolades and say your work stimulates one to try harder with every aspect of photography.

        • Thank you! And yes, that’s a good course of action. Ask yourself what your current gear isn’t doing for you, and how the proposed replacement might solve the problem. If the answer is not clear…don’t buy.

  9. A really incredible set, Ming. Home run in every way!!

  10. Daniel Boyd says:

    i am speechless and that is rare! This is the first time I can not pick out a favorite, love them all.

  11. Your “bean” photograph is the best I’ve seen of that site.

  12. John Weeks says:

    Beautiful images Ming…when I examine your images i always try to think what my eye would see. I find that I would not be expanded as your are and I take that to mean my vision is lacking, something I really need to work on. Inn other words my images would be smaller portions. It is the extra open space of 4th quadrant type of hing that you use as open space (sky) that I am trying to get a handle on (hard to explain to you). Understanding your composition of all 4 quadrants. If we were to take in the same scene i guarantee you mine would be less open…this is a big element I need o work on.

  13. A lot of your architectural work like Only one place in Chicago or Internal Support would be great illustrations for Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. Have you ever read the book? You might enjoy it.

    • One of my favourites, actually. Unfortunately the ideas contained within are a sad but true mirror of the current state of pretty much every industry. That, and Atlas Shrugged.

      • Atlas Shrugged is a personal favourite. If you have the patience to get through the first 200 pages, the book is really rewarding. Ayn Rand herself confessed to being disappointed that she was never the kind of person John Galt was.

        • It does require a certain amount of financial independence and not giving a damn…I don’t think I could ever be Galt – Roark is more like it…

  14. Wonderful and inspiring! Thanks for sharing Ming!

    • Thanks – apparently it is soulless though…

      • Great images Ming, a small point though I feel it has a larger impact. I am referring to titling. I find the clinical and precise nature of the work to be a reflection of your aesthetic values in a very personal and sincere way. There is a lot more going on in some of these images than the titles suggest and I think that in someways this pulls the work down. Let the viewer bring more to the work. This work needs an intelligent audience Ming, the people that get it, get it. Architecture in Chicago was all the information required, its strong work.

  15. At least for me, this so called modern architecture is slowly but truly boring for me! Just flat glass high rise palaces have no atmosphere, compared to old buildings!

    • agree.

      • Well, it’s a good thing for you both that there are a) other places to live, and b) other photography sites…

        • Hey, I only agreed that, for this blog, I personally wasn’t moved by most (but not all) of the images. It’s a matter of taste and style. I live just outside Los Angeles so I have a wealth of architectural subjects within a few minutes drive, but I’m not particularly interested in the subject matter. Your images are definitely beautiful and their tonal qualities are near perfect. They just don’t excite my muse.

          And it’s not very nice to tell someone who’s been following your blog for several years to go some place else simply because they don’t happen to fall in love with one of your showcases.

          • I’m not, and apologize for any offense caused. I just said there were choices…but look at it from the other direction – it’s also rather disheartening to have a regular reader pass judgement without justifying why, either.

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