Photoessay: Silent in Kuala Lumpur

_8B14128 copy

Urban environments are characterised by people: creators, masters, users. They are odd when empty simply because they were never intended to be empty. What is left can be whatever you want it to be; sinister, lonely, a mere abstraction of form and color. Sometimes I wonder about the whole creative circle underlying these locations and objects: somebody had to design and make them, and they had to find the inspiration from somewhere else. We then in turn find something of interest in their forms – but probably not what the original creator intended, especially when taken in concert with environment and other unplanned or juxtaposed objects. Or perhaps I’m thinking too much. Make of these what you will…MT

This series was shot over a period of time with a wide variety of hardware and processed with the fine art technique in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5.

_5024961 copyII

A4517558 copy

A4517508 copy

_XT10467 copy

A4517547 copy

_5027207 copy

A4517536 copy

_A72_DSC0289 copy

_8B14758 copy

_8B13264 copy

_8B14736 copy

_RX103_DSC0058 copy

_7500602 copy

_7500128 copy

_RX103_DSC0065 copy


Be inspired to take your photography further: Masterclass Chicago (27 Sep-2 Oct) and Masterclass Tokyo (9-14 Nov) now open for booking!


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


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


  1. Great!

  2. I visited Malaysia a few years ago and most of my time was spent in KL. I set myself the challenge of bringing only a Nikon D300 and a 35mm lens to make all my photographs. Well, it was partly a challenge and partly because I didn’t want to be dragging around a lot of equipment. I would love to go back some day for a photo trip rather than a vacation. There are a lot of interesting places in the city to walk around with a camera. I think the best photo of the trip was an older gentleman in Chinatown who does satay on the sidewalk. Delicious and photogenic!

    • I’d suggesting getting out of KL to Penang, Malacca and Borneo if you’re going to do a photo trip – there’s far more to see and shoot than KL…

      • We did get to Penang and Malacca for a few days. My wife and I both liked Penang very much but didn’t have such a great time in Malacca because of the hotels and a few other things. I loved the architecture there, though.

  3. What I see here is more simple: just the calm silent mood that is only present in urban environments, when no-one is around, and only shadows of the few trees around are moving. That’s when you want to stop on your tracks for a moment just to take a deep breath and capture that tiny moment of peace. It’s the kind of thing I would usually fail to capture photographically, so I will surely return to this post. Thanks.

    On a sidenote, XIV is slightly out of place in my view. I almost expect that rear light to flicker and the cars to start moving any second. The impression might be different if I was used to KL traffic jams 😉

    • Thanks Tarmo. Trust me, KL traffic jams aren’t tranquil and still – unless you view them with no sound, then they’re just cold and lonely. All of those unhappy people inside their metal cocoons, going nowhere…

  4. Ming,

    You remarked in your “Rethink” that gear reviews attract readers and other posts do not, as measured, if memory serves, by comments. I read both types of articles but rarely comment. It doesn’t matter if I like somebody’s style or not, I learn by looking at everything. What’s to say? With gear it is different. There is often some detail that the review doesn’t cover that you might know the answer to. That will provoke a query. So what’s the point this comment? This suggestion: Keep writing the blog the way you want and don’t worry much about it. My guess it that in the long run it attracts some of the high end clients that you seek even though there is no short run twitter that suggests that they are looking.


    • You’re probably right, Ron. I’m sure far fewer people google ‘why we photograph’ or ‘what makes an outstanding image’ than ‘sony A7RII review’. 🙂

  5. Always an excellent study in composition and light that gets me thinking. Much appreciate the great work!

  6. madmurphy says:

    Deceptive simplicity. These are my some favourite kinds of shots. Well framed so as to appear as if they were designed rather than seen and merely framed by a camera and with lots of details to draw you in. XI, XII and XII are my favourites. And as always , top notch technical execution.

  7. I is still my favourite. Though I may be biased, because I was there when that image was shot and I remember wondering what the hell you were pointing your camera at, because I couldn’t see anything. That was a lesson in ‘seeing’. Haven’t met another person who feels as strongly about that image and print as I do yet. 🙂

    • Each to his own – I like it, but I admit I think you probably feel a lot stronger about it than even I do – it was more a demonstration of the concept of transparency for me…

  8. I checked a few of the dates on flickr, guessing, correctly it seems, that it would have taken you a few years to put this set together – silence and peace and quiet are rare commodities in Asian cities, in my experience 🙂
    A nice set, IV and VII work particularly well for me because there’s a particularly strong sense of a missing human presence…

  9. Wow! A superb photo essay. I thought each image would be my favorite, only to be delighted by the next. I was quite moved. Technically, I appreciate how consistent your look is despite the variety of equipment and conditions. I feel like I can get a look that I have in mind, but there is no set look and it keeps changing over time, so I have zero style or consistency. Yet, I would be hard pressed to fix the problem because I don’t feel a style.

  10. Lucy March says:

    After a very exhausting day in the realm of the interpersonal, what a joy to look at your portraits of emptiness. You are a master of juxtaposition!

  11. VIII. Inspiring set, but VIII is so, so nice.

    It’s funny, re: time to rethink gear, I clicked thru each photo to view the exif data for a trend (or lack thereof).

    • Thanks. Analysis isn’t helpful because it’s often a case of using what you have to hand – the data doesn’t record what you also had but left at home, or what you wish you had. There’s no trend at all – especially for a body of work that spans a longer period of time. 17 cameras for The Idea of Man which spans six years. Eight cameras for Verticality over two years. Etc.

  12. Alex Carnes says:

    Excellent. I still don’t always try to abstract from a scene sufficiently; my days of shooting to show something rather than to create photographs with artistic merit have scarred me and i still sometimes put too much in the frame. I really like what you do with shadows and darkness as well, too many people try to eliminate them!

    • Thank you – the shadows/darkness are what is left unsaid, and an opportunity for the audience to fill in with their own imagination…

  13. XVI nails it with masterful color contrast and clean geometry. Some of the others are mot as ‘pure’ as this…

    • I try…but I am also limited by the material. These were accumulated over a long period of time and only published when I felt as though I had ‘enough’ – even then…

      • Perhaps you could narrow down your personal work further. You have shot enough skyscrapers to last ypu a century. Subtle color shades like those in XVI is where your technique and vision shine far more convincingly, in my opinion. This from a BW guy that know good color work when he sees some! (And who, alas, prefers atmosphere to surgical sharpness…)

        • Well, identical images don’t really hold attention for very long either…and there’s no reason why one can’t have both. But this set isn’t so dependent on atmosphere as say something cinematic…the whole point is that we are devoid of atmosphere without the people. A certain sterility is required to convey that.

    • I agree. This is a beautiful photograph.

    • I, too, like this last shot. The perfect way to end the set. I can understand the theme and metaphors all too well. The silence, absence of life, decaying structures and sense of entropy all relate well. And the bare light illuminating the shadows…

  14. Really stunning Ming. Wonderful set.

  15. once again you have outdone yourself, you have transformed something ordinary into an idea, astonishing work!

%d bloggers like this: