Photoessay: Abstract rocks of Hruba Skala

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Hrubá Skalá is a tiny little village around a castle, located in the Český Ráj (Bohemian Paradise) area of the Czech Republic. It’s about an hour or so north of Prague and very much in the countryside; farmhouses there change hands for EUR 20,000 or thereabouts. It also contains some of the most interesting rock formations on earth – a mixture of limestone and sandstone towers in fantastic shapes that remained whilst the surrounding soil eroded away. In places they protrude out of the forest forming a cliff line; in others they are so near to each other that canyons which never see any light are formed. Walking between them is quite otherworldly – not just because of their scale, but because you pretty much have the place to yourself.

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It’s even more amazing because this is arguably one of the most interesting landscape formations I’ve seen; even though it lacks the sheer scale of the Grand Canyon or the drama of Antelope Canyon. UNESCO obviously thought so too, because the entire Český Ráj area is a protected region; yet people are allowed to rock climb there (and it turns out climbing is also one of the most popular activities because of the hugely challenging terrain). Even if you are not photographically inclined, it’s a pretty magical place to go for a walk – especially when the sun is out and there’s a bit of breeze blowing through the trees. From the road level, it isn’t entirely obvious where the formations are; very little can be seen. The easiest place to start is by parking at the castle, turning right, and picking any one of the three pathways that lead downwards into miniature gullies within about 500m. Each one is different, and each one is pretty special in the right light. Think of today’s series of images as an intimate ‘rock portrait’ – I was quite taken by the forms of both the rock and surface lichen; garnishes of hanging ivy or dried leaves from the surrounding trees added some faded but natural color. I’ll have some larger scale landscapes in the near future. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D810, 24/3.5 and 45/2.8 PCEs, the Zeiss 85 Otus and Voigtlander 180/4 APO-Lanthar. A tripod is a must, it’s pretty dark in there.

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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. Wojciech Czaplinski says:

    Great set (as always)! I visited another “rock city” of the Bohemian Paradise in June, definitely need more DR-capable camera and a tripod…

  2. Beautiful shots, Ming Thein, and these remind me very much of a larger version of local terrain. You would love the Ozarks (Southern Missouri / Northern Arkansas). Lots of limestone karst formations, caves, tiny slot canyons. My favorite quick trail, Pickle Springs Trail through Time, has a petite double arch about 4 meters high, a moss-covered stone gulley (crack wide enough to walk through) that is 5 to 10 degrees F cooler than surrounding area, a 3 meters high boulder called the Terrapin (because it looks like a box turtle), various little keyholes and groups of boulders.

  3. First time I’ve seen a series of landscapes all in portrait format. Nice subject lighting in XIII – was that the actual lighting on the figure something you had to wait for?

    • Thanks. I suspect the placement of the figure might have something to do with the way light naturally directs itself through the canyon.

  4. Harry DeYong says:

    I’ve never taken a photographic course/workshop in my life, (and I’m 61), but I think one of yours is going to be my next birthday present to myself.

  5. Stephanus, Berni says:

    I like your way of looking at things.Your photos are unspectacular (compared to other landscape pictures) but so perfectly composed.

    • They’re meant to work best as prints of a certain size, but web viewing is what we’ve got to live with for the moment…

      • i’m liking IX. nice tones and definition for sure.
        however on the topic from this thread:
        have you ever considered a paywall system by which people could view high res online? not FULL res (which would not be really viewable even on a giant 4k monitor) but higher than what’s on flickr a way for people to get a better idea of the detail without buying a print. i can only imagine there would be an audience for such a thing….just a thought.
        keep it up….

        • Nope, and whatever I could charge isn’t worth the lost revenue from one decent license or one print run, so it isn’t going to happen, sorry. Too many unscrupulous people out there – if they can already steal the tiny 1000px jpegs, then this would be like candy on a plate.

          • it’s unfortunate. the number of ultra high res images produced compared to high res prints sold must be exponential (i think that applies to even the most financially successful shooters). basically meaning that only a very tiny number of people ever get to see what any image “really” looks like.

            • Yes – and even the best of today’s screens like the 5K iMac don’t even show half of the captured information. It’s really something else to be able to take in all of the information at once – and when you get to the gigapixel level in a moderate size print (but still one that occupies your entire field of vision) then the perceptual barrier between reality and a representation of reality really starts to break down…

  6. Gorgeous!!

  7. Not abstracts, but exquisite intimate landscapes.

  8. John Weeks says:

    Enjoyed the series, especially Viii

  9. Hello, nice essay and photos. Have you visited Krusne Hory (Krušné Hory) in Czech Republic?? Tip: My photo album

  10. Good heavens – wonderful!

  11. John Nicholson says:

    Super. Crystal clear and marvellous colouring. Are they HDR?

  12. Guy Incognito says:

    Looks like a place I’d love to visit! Thank you for the photoessay – wonderful set

    I don’t know if the order in which you display the images imputes a particular preference or narrative? My favourite is ‘II’. It is a fun balance between nature portrait and abstraction of texture, color and strong lines. I had a joyful few seconds of confusion understanding how depth in the photo worked. You’re onto something here…

    • There’s a personal preference to the flow, certainly, but with something this abstract, it’s tricky and obviously not as critical as with say a narrative storyline.

      • Guy Incognito says:

        Good point. I couldn’t identify an obvious progression in there – but that is certainly not a weakness. It is a great series of images! The light in ‘III’ is amazing – was there any temptation to get a wider DOF to accommodate the foreground (illuminated rock)?

  13. Pavel P. says:

    Hello, nice essay and photos. Have you visited Adrspach-Teplice rocks? Also very popular and beautiful rock formation in our region….


  14. Len Harrison says:

    Another super collection of photographs!!!!

  15. Things of nature rarely fail to disappoint when they are seen as appropriate for portraiture. Ageless beauties! Thank you for introducing us to another magical place.

  16. Following comments, thanks

  17. Very nice indeed, Ming and Czech Republic deliver once again. May I recommend one of my favorite outdoor blogs, I think you’d like the pictures, I certainly do.

    • One of my favourite places on earth. Sometimes you get lucky with the light, too. Some interesting images on that link, but he could really go easy with the vignette too!

      • True about the vignettes, especially B&W images. I hope I won’t start seeing them everywhere, because I’ve enjoyed the pictures immensely. Since I’ve been following him (year/half year back) he’s put out a steady stream of great quality photos.
        It’s pretty much yours and his (photography) blog I follow closely. The only other photographer I follow at the moment is this fellow , but that’s mostly to get another perspective on photography. I haven’t yet figured out whether I like the style or not, so I keep on looking.

    • Michael Gent says:

      Daniel thank you for sharing that link. I was scanning down through the vast amount of superb rock and mountain images to find he uses the Sigma DP2 Merrill. Of which im a fan and user.

  18. Gulp, Ming… you are bringing it directly served on a plate. This is the most fantastic picturesque landscape I’ve ever visited.
    Once more I notice how dull light is excellent making painterly ore sculpture’esque images. But when the sun hit the beautiful place the options are uncountable.
    This series means a lot to me. Thank you for showing your work from there.

    • I felt like we had to work for the shots though, Gerner – it was magic but the magic was very much hidden. It was a pleasure to be shooting in it with you and Ian.

      The light is dull, but still directional – all you have to do is find the direction…

  19. By revealing this secret place you Ming broke the seal of silence, disturbed the dwarfs digging their gold and provoked the dark forces calmed by elves for centuries…

  20. Wonderful story and great photos Ming! Sounds like a great place to go.

  21. OED: “Abstract, a. 1. Separated from matter, practice, or particular examples. 2. Free from representational qualities.”

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