Photoessay: a different kind of KL cityscape

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Ordered cubism

I personally find one of the most challenging things to do is make compelling and different images in a situation that is a familiar one: your home city, your usual equipment with nothing particularly special or capable of making a distinctive look (or another way of looking at it is a general purpose tool with a very versatile shooting envelope), challenging weather, and to top it off, conditions that are not ideally conducive for creativity*. These were shot during a private workshop as examples; I have to simultaneously apologise to and thank my student at the time: firstly, I felt I could have made better images with a bit more sleep, but the conditions pushed me to really look for something different. In the end, I think this set fit the bill: I am happy because these are images that I have not only not produced in some form or other before, but images that I never conceptualised because I was not looking in those places either – even though it wasn’t my first time there. Enjoy! MT

*Prolonged lack of sleep from a newborn and a small apartment full of relatives.

This series was shot with a Nikon D810 and 24-120/4 VR, which is probably about as flexible as you can get.

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The curvature of a virtual world

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Hope and desolation

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Light at a jaunty angle

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Disordered cubism

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What came before

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Before disuse

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After the rain

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Your move


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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. Brett Patching says:

    Lovely series Ming!

  2. Great images Ming! I felt like there were a lot of shots I wasn’t seeing at Dayabumi and that was quite frustrating. I did attempt something similar to your shot above, but yours blows mine out of the water… 🙂

    Also, it seems forcing yourself to shoot in the relatively creative desert KL has become for you, also forces you to push yourself further and that a good thing right. ‘After the rain’ is definitely my favourite here.

  3. Great pictures as always! Especially “After the rain”.

  4. wayne s. says:

    Nice set Ming!
    My favorites are Your Move and After The Rain.
    I think I would like Your Move in B&W better but I guess you were going for the contrast of the B&W squares section and the color in the background

    • Thanks Wayne. B&W wouldn’t work because you need the color anchor at the back to prevent the whole frame feeling too heavy.

  5. John Brady says:

    Fantastic images, particularly “Cutout” and “After the rain”. I have been enjoying your “How to See” series and am now moving onto your Photoshop Workflow series (having always used Lightroom until now). I look forward to your continued insights.

    And congratulations on the new addition to the family. I hope you can find the same balance in your life that you find in your compositions 🙂

  6. Daniel Boyd says:

    Your Move is awesome Ming, and so is the rest…

  7. “After the Rain” is a beaut!

  8. Every time you complain about exhausted opportunities of KL out comes a better set of photos. I especially like ‘Hope and desolation’ due to the “bad” light and “boring” subject(s), yet there’s a nicely composed story that works even without the title cue. ‘Disordered cubism’ is another favourite due to the unashamedly photographic composition. Perhaps I should start spending an hour a day in the bathroom with a camera until something other than excrete comes out. Might be difficult to explain the exercise to my girlfriend, though.

    • Well, in a place without exhausted opportunities like say Prague – a day of good light will yield ~200 or so keepers from several thousand shots. This is about it for me in KL – a dozen or so. There is a feeling of really having to work very hard to squeeze out something new/different as opposed to just capturing what you see…does that make any sense?

      Btw, the bathroom exercise is pretty fun actually. I’ve done it before…I think my wife had given up by that point, she only gave me the slightest of strange looks when I went in with the 4×5!

      • Haha! Yes the explanation makes sense. Perhaps it is the squeezing bit that makes the difference, and different is sometimes good. Did you rationalise the 4×5 btw, or still experimenting with it?

  9. This is an incredible set, Ming. I love how educating others helps you to see new perspectives in your own home town. And there’s nothing like sleep deprivation to bring out a twisted artistry!

  10. I’m going to be wandering around town (yup, KL 😉 ) this weekend studying puddles wherever I go. Certainly no shortage..
    Great photos, most enjoyable to see some more new angles in my/our home city.

  11. Steve Jones says:

    How KL has changed! I remember the days when I spent my vacations there and walked around in the heat with my then heavy camera bag slung over my shoulder. At that time the Dayabumi building was probably the most interesting modern structure in all of KL. Ha ha! I often photographed it and cooled off at the fountains underneath.In my bag at the time was the latest in high tech camera gear. A Minolta 5000AF and the only other lens I could then afford, a 100 – 200 tele. Looking at “Cutout” brings back a lot of memories for sure. These days my home ground is Japan, and even though everyone ( including yourself ) remarks on how rich it is in photographic opportunities, I have to try REALLY hard to get excited about it because it’s all so familiar now. In some ways there is simply too much to photograph here and the difficulty is in being selective enough and deciding what to exclude. So I often have a people day. or an architecture day, or a color day and so on. This series you’ve included here proves beyond all doubt that treasure can be found in your own back yard, and we should look for it more often.

    • Dayabumi is still one of the most interesting structures in KL – no more fountains though, and I really doubt they’d let you cool off in them if there were!

      No question it’s challenging to find the treasure though…

  12. What Came Before is so exceptionally, mind-bendingly good… I need to linger over that one to grok how you conceptualized that. Superb.

    You’ve probably mentioned this in previous posts, Ming, but I’m curious — how much do we see here that is straight out of camera? I don’t mean tonal/contrast tweaks, but cropping/framing-wise? How does your pre-visualization match with what you’ve curated for us to peruse?

    • Thanks. Short answer – I don’t crop other than to another aspect ratio (one original dimension always preserved), and that’s previsualized beforehand. There’s no way you can make a strong image if you are searching for the composition after capture…

  13. I have to also note that “After the rain” jumped out at me. Very nice indeed! As an aside, if you are not familiar with the John Coltrane song of the same name, look it up. It’s gorgeous.

    This is an interesting post. As far as is possible (weather permitting, in other words), I spend every Sunday shooting from morning to evening in my home town, in which I’ve lived for some 7 years now. Theoretically, I should have covered just about every square inch of it and I should also have the same problem you do with your home town – yet it doesn’t really happen. I think the difference is simply down to a) light and b) people. I can’t complain that my city has some two million people and is pretty big (it ranks around 4th or so in Japan), but for some reason there’s always something worth shooting, and as Hercalitus put it “you can not step in the same river twice”. That said, of course, it’s always more stimulating when you’re somewhere less familiar and more exotic.

    I hope I’ll be forgiven a minor hijack, but I also had a (tangentially relevant, I hope) question, seeing as you shot this with a D810. The prices of used D800s are going down like mad over here – to under half of their price at launch – and I’ve started to look seriously at them with the purpose of having something which can match (or get close to) my DP Merrill 3 at base ISO, but which obviously has a much bigger shooting envelope along with other trivialities like decent battery life and fast AF. Do you think that this is a fair assessment of the D800? I’ve seen them as low as 140,000 yen here (body only). If time permits, any thoughts will be much appreciated.

    • I think you’ve got a much larger and more pedestrian-friendly city than I do – most of KL is not walkable.

      As for the D800, I assume you mean the ‘E’ – the other one you might as well skip. Assuming it’s free of left-side AF issues, it still remains just as good as the day it was released, which is to say pretty much at the top of the pile. I’m still using mine for flash work because the more linear tonal response than the D810 helps with DR manipulation in the shadows.

  14. I think we are many who have exhausted the place we are living in. Hence I’m impressed you were able to come up with thése impressive images Ming. From where do you pull out inspiration to go out and shoot KL again and again? Is the Photographic Force with you? must be something like that 🙂

  15. I really liked your photograph After the Rain.
    Yes it’s a tedious task to present your town every time with a different perspective.

  16. Dear Mr Thein,

    Photography is still a quite recent — but deeply cherished — hobby of mine. I have been one of your readers for quite some time now and find your posts to be truly informative and thought-provoking. Having recently moved to KL, I am pleased to start recognising some of the places that appear in your photos here. My compliments and sincere thanks for the extraordinary resource of information and pleasant thinking!

  17. Really like the images! I think I recognize the last building from the blitz exercise in Making Outstanding Images Ep2. If I have the exercise in the correct video. 🙂

  18. belated congrats to you both on the new family member, sifu.
    was that a ‘hangover’ from a full moon celebration 🙂 ?
    the sleepless nights, cherish them, for you will look reminisce them with fondness later.

  19. The complimentary colors, cleverness, and composition of After the rain is outstanding.


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