Photoessay: Hruba Skala at Cesky Raj

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About all that’s visible from the road

Today’s photoessay continues the previous two from Hruba Skala at Cesky Raj. I would think of today as more of a general overview and contextual positioning of these unique rock formations in the general landscape around the Cesky Raj (Bohemian Paradise) area in the northern part of the Czech Republic. What isn’t immediately apparent from this (and all other) images of the rocks is that they’re really not that easily visible from the roads surrounding the perimeter of the area, nor does the general topography suggest where you might find them. Instead, you are driving hopefully through some forest and there are little hints of entrance on the right which suggest something much larger. It isn’t til you get down into the gorges and keep walking that the sense of scale is actually apparent. It is one of the most surreal places I’ve been because of this dichotomy between our ability to comprehend the scale (unlike say the Grand Canyon) and the actual size of it – you can go up and touch elements of it, but you’ve got to do some walking. In other words, it’s bigger than you think. And a challenge to capture, too. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D810, 24 and 45mm PCE lenses, a Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus, a Voigtlander 180/4 APO Lanthar and processed with Photoshop Workflow II.

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Guiding light

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Stack I

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Lean I

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Lean II

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Shadows and moss I

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Shadows and moss II

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Lonely outpost I

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Lonely outpost II

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Finger of God (with hangnail)

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Looking out from atop a stack

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Some sense of height I

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Some sense of height II

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Castle and master

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Cloud in flight at twilight

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Day’s end – what you do not see is that this was shot off a slippery 3ft wide rock precipice, with a sheer drop of at least 150ft in front and behind me.


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


  1. Nice work, as usual. I can envision several of these as strong B&W. Any inclination to go in that direction?

  2. Wojciech Czapliński says:

    Been there, done that… and realized – need more dynamic range!

    Český Ráj, Prachovské Skály:


    • Gerner Christensen says:

      Sorry Wojtek .. it seems to me the dynamic range of the light in where you shot these images far exceeds your camera’s DR capabilities in this respect.

  3. Hi Ming,
    Quite a nice set. But I just really wanted to thank you for reviewing the Voigtlander 180/4. I owned it twice in the past but the prices has been spiking pretty drastically since someone reviewed it. 😉 Maybe just reflecting the rise of mirrors though. Anyway, always a pleasure to see your stuff.

    • Also, I love your work, and I can see where people would perceive it as unemotional or sterile. It’s not the composition, subjects or content, but the processing I believe. I see it as subdued, balanced and sophisticated. The photo of the Sigma CEO, while he was remarkably warm, this didn’t translate with the mostly mid tones on the darker side, no intimacy as in a close head shot/subject taking up whole frame, and the chosen compositional balance gives the feeling of a controlled photo. I loved it–I think I need to try some processing for portraiture in similar ways. Just my observation, and I could very well be off.

      • Thanks. The intention wasn’t for a warm portrait simply because of the situation – it was all a bit posed anyway, and I only had a couple of minutes for the shoot.

    • Thanks. Nah, there are still a few available at Map Camera in Tokyo at what appears to be the usual price for the last couple of years…

  4. So great to see this beautiful photo essay – Funnily, I was hiking in Hruba Scala about a week ago and was planning to write a post about it. Will send you the link when it’s up!

  5. Ming,

    Firstly, a quite enjoyable set, though I don’t find that it really resonated with me on a visceral level like a lot of your work (though I chuckled on “Finger of God”). I can’t quite put a finger on it (no pun intended! ha) and can’t quite find the words to explain it. Either way, always enjoy your viewpoint.

    Secondly, I am actually traveling to Prague in October and plan to visit Hruba Skala via train/bus from Prague and do a day hike through the area. Do you have any suggestions or comments about the area that might not be obvious to someone who hasn’t been?

    Lastly, I’m very much looking forward to your exhibition here in Chicago. Will there be Ultraprints available for viewing? I’ve been extremely curious to see one in person!


    • Could be a size thing – these definitely work better at larger sizes due to the subject matter.

      Just one suggestion: start at the castle, turn right, and if you walk a couple of hundred meters there are a few great ‘entry points’ down into the valley.

      Chicago is a 100% Ultraprint exhibition 😉

      • 100% Ultraprint? Fantastic! I was actually at the Rangefinder gallery this week and I love that venue (and oogling all the beautiful cameras).

        Thanks for the suggestion. Which castle are you referring to? There is the castle with the hotel in it in Hruba Skala itself and then nearby castles Trosky and Valdstejn?

        Grateful as always!

  6. Another very nice set and it looks like a fascinating place, not sure if I’ll ever get the chance to visit, but I hope to do so one day!
    I admire your ability here to pick out elements and compositions that are tightly defined and composed but also suggestive of a wider scene – I know from experience that when I go somewhere like this I end up with either sweeping wide angle shots lacking a clear subject, or shots of individual features that could have been taken anywhere….

    • Thanks Jonathan. One suggestion – ask yourself what is unique about the place, make sure you have that element, and throw away everything else. For Hruba Skala, it’s the rocks. Remember also that the curation should differ depending on whether you are presenting a set or a single, too.

  7. I would like to point out (as you probably have uncountable times) that these must be viewed on a calibrated Monitor.

    I looked at them this morning on my Galaxy Note (2014 edition) and thought ‘hmmm I’m not sure why you chose these’.

    I’ve just looked again on my calibrated monitor and absolutely love this series! The subtlety of light on some, the great directional light on others and the composition on all. The quality really shines through! Even at web size. Wow!

    No more viewing on shitty screens for me. 🙂

    Amazing Work Don Ming.


  8. I’m really enjoying the compositional ideas in this set. Roots, Lonely Outpost II, Dance, and Castle and Master are especially interesting to ponder.

  9. John Brady says:

    Wow. This is a great series. It feels like an architectural approach to landscapes. Shadows and Moss I, Lonely Outpost I and II, Dance – superb. Very interesting compositions which give a sense of place. I’m very glad you navigated the dual precipices at Day’s End 🙂

    Your processing has always interested me: there is a crispness and consistency to your images which I’ve never been able to emulate. I’m now working through your Photoshop Workflow series and looking forward to learning from it.

    • Thanks! As for PP: it does start with consistency of source material/capture to a large extent. This is to ensure you have the most possible information to work with when allocating tones…

  10. Meredith ("Scott") Wood says:

    HI, Ming. I am enjoying your blog more and more. Who was that idiot guy who said your images were boring? Ridiculous. I personally love the way you shoot anything and everything, always with a good eye for good composition and fascinating detail. I consider you a sort of modern-day Cartier-Bresson with a broader outlook, capturing images from multiple disciplines–landscapes, people, architecture–whether they be cityscapes, factories, people caught in the act of being themselves, or of course scenes from our great outdoors. One day out of curiosity a few months ago I decided to check out your site in its entirety but finally gave up after reaching image 10 million (not really!!) with no end in sight,—but I was never bored. Anyway, keep up the good work. I’m sure your visitors with an even modest sense of composition love it.

    • Thanks Scott – you might need a little more time since you probably got about halfway 😛

      Plenty of people find my work sterile, cold, unemotional and clinical though. I suppose if there is no emotion evoked, good OR bad, that is a worse thing…

  11. Wonderful work Ming! Truly inspiring. Several favorites in this set.

  12. Hi Ming – love this series: I regularly hike in the dense forests up here in Quebec and so seeing how you work with form and light in this sort of space is especially inspiring.

    Btw that first link (“Today’s photoessay continues the previous two from Hruba Skala at Cesky Raj”) is broken (.co not .com).

  13. leecleland says:

    I have been following your blog for a little while and like your work, but Shadows and Moss 1 stopped me in my tracks (so to speak) it spoke to me as very few images have, thank you for sharing.

  14. Gerner Christensen says:

    Even on the heavily compressed Flickr images it is possible to sense the 3 dimensional depth. But seeing these in Ultraprint is taking you beyond pleasure and leaves you with an experience of being there yourself.
    I am stunned by how incredible these prints are and some of the images above were taken in very flat light and should result in flat looking prints. This certainly not the case if Ultraprinted that more than anything just sucks you into the scene and you sense light with true high fidelity to the real thing. We may have flat light, but still there are days where it has enormous clarity. Such those flat light days actually were and not bad for photography at all.

    Thank you Ming inviting me back to those days we spent together and even those are unforgettable, still, seeing these images just makes the memories much stronger and played back in real time.

    • They were not bad because we had the ability to hold everything within the camera’s DR – if it was a very bright day, we’d probably lose the shadows or the skies/leaves, and that wouldn’t be as transparent or as convincing as a print. I believe you’ve got a couple of these, so you’ll definitely be able to see the difference between the web image and the intended output.

      A surreal location with great company 🙂

  15. That is a seriously cool series! How much did you use tilt and shift in the process? I’ve found natural scenes with lots of verticality troublesome in a similar way as architecture. However I’m also too lazy to use a tripod…

    • Thank you. Lots of shift, almost zero tilt. I don’t mind some out of focus areas in an image since our eyes work in a similar way anyway. But the keystoning must be seen to…

      That said, some of these were shot with longer lenses that didn’t need (or have) shift to begin with.

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