Photoessay: Seaside, Penang

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Sea eagle rock

Sometimes, we have very productive days inspired by our environments. This series was effectively shot in two afternoons – perhaps six hours total; it was just one of those days when everything came together – weather, location, possible subject matter. Perhaps it was brought on by me not particularly looking for anything and being receptive to possible scenes in a sort of photographic meditation/ relaxation; I’m one of those people who will shoot if idle just to see how things look and experiment a little. Half of these images were shot from a friend’s balcony along Tanjung Bunga north of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia*; the other half were from a little beachside cafe in Batu Ferrenghi.

*Penang is a very rich photographic location; we cover it in How To See Ep. 3.

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Kedah Peak after dawn

You’ll notice this set has two major themes – a sort of timelessness, and a sort of wistfulness. The former is accentuated by the use of long exposures and ND filters; fast water turns into a gentle soft gauzy blanket which then instead feels tranquil. The latter is something else, and a development of the idea from my first Only the clouds are truly free image shot in Taipei in late 2013. These images are minimalist, solitary, usually have a lone figure in a pose of contemplation, and of course, the obligatory cloud. There’s also a suggestion of expansiveness and something over the horizon, but simultaneously a limitation or anchor preventing that freedom from being achieved – a fence, an anchor, a rope, baggage etc. I’m planning to develop this as an ongoing project, though finding the right clouds in this part of the world is actually quite challenging – there are either too many, or too few! In the meantime, put your feet up and enjoy the seaside vicariously. MT

This set was shot with a Nikon D810, Nikon 20/1.8G, 24-120/4 VR, Zeiss 1.4/55 and 1.4/85 Otuses and a Voigtlander 180/4 APO-Lanthar. Images were processed with Photoshop Workflow 2.

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Early runs

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Cruise under a big sky

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Playful puppy

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Washed in with the tide

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Nobody home

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Escape (only the clouds are truly free)

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Tethered (only the clouds are truly free)

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Horse and handler

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Baggage (only the clouds are truly free)

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Homewards (only the clouds are truly free)


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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. which beaches did you go to? 🙂

  2. Uskomattoman ihania kuvia. marvellous photos, could look at them hours.

  3. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Beautiful series – as expected, 🙂 .

    I especially like the more “minimalistic” ones, just personal taste, they feel so meditative…

    Sea eagle rock
    Untitled, above “Cruise under a big sky”
    Washed in with the tide

  4. Praneeth Rajsingh says:

    Kedah peak, still remains my favourite. A good lesson for me in mood too.

  5. These beautiful images remind me of the famous Ryoanji Temple garden where few tangible objects are sufficient to define the aesthetics. They are very Zen like with priority on empty space to produce a meditative mind.

  6. Beautiful set Ming, good job! Some of those must look stunning in print.

  7. The first image is beautifully dynamic: tranquil, but still clearly carrying energy. I have a space on my study wall – I will send you an email shortly…

  8. Very nice, especially the horse and rider. I like the way the low, oblique light illuminates the curved edges and colors. Please keep blogging and don’t let the trolls get you down.

  9. As another clinical psychologist among your readers, I would recommend Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow, for a good exploration of peak experience.

  10. John Nicholson says:

    You keep on giving us real treats! Thankyou.

  11. Maybe my fantasy is running wild. But it put a smile on my face so I thought I share it:

    You sitting on the balcony. Soft music playing in the background. Sitting in a comfortable chair. Chatting with a friend and enjoying your tea and cake and in passing shooting these amazing pictures and be happy as clam 🙂

    The pictures are simply lovely.

    • Quite a few of them were actually shot that way – from an elevated friend’s balcony, with said friend over the course of an afternoon and a cigar 🙂

  12. Great shots, the third one looks like GR colours…:)

  13. Lovely, Ming… so calming…

  14. Can’t pick my fave among these fabulous photographs .. so let’s say **Washed in with the tide** for it’s strong story then.
    Anyways what is so appealing to me is the negative space = the open sea and sky that surrounds everything, it brings my mind into balance and I know then this is art.

  15. Alex Carnes says:

    They’re fantastic, especially Kedah Peak after dawn. I love low horizons and you’ve been daring in leaving the image so dark! I’ve been shooting a D810 under similar sunset lighting conditions recently, and I’m struggling with a slightly ‘pink’ tint in the images in Lightroom that takes some processing out. Can I ask which of Adobe’s camera profiles you like or use, or have you made your own? I tend to work from Camera Neutral or Flat, but I’m not particularly keen on any of them and have to do rather a lot of work. Camera Neutral has a nice ‘open’ look compared to the others due to lower contrast, but the colours are hardly neutral – the grass turns radioactive and blue skies have a sort of Walk Disney ‘cyan’ look. Anyway, fabulous images! 🙂

    • Thanks. I use my own profiles based of a Color Checker Passport – the profiling process is covered in PS Workflow II. Sony sensors tend to have the cyan shift problem in skies, and I still don’t have a good solution for the greens across the entire tonal range – fix the midtones and highlights and you get cyan shadows, or yellow highlights if you do the reverse. Can’t win!

  16. So serene! Even though the web (cf Ultraprint) doesn’t quite do them full justice, the lovely mood, tone, expression is conveyed. Beautiful set.

  17. Langkawi and Pangkor Island worth a visit too. I love seacapea,how are the beaches in Penang?

    • Revisiting Langkawi is on my list of to-dos. Beaches in Penang aren’t as good as the other two places, but it’s culturally richer.

      • Well, far be it from me to be consistently negative, but…I first visited Langkawi over 20 years ago, when there were only 2 or 3 main resorts on the island. Subsequent trips have left me slightly despairing at quite how much the island has been changed into an almost resort-to-resort sameness, much like Penang’s main stretch – except much nicer, if you like resorts. 😉 The Four Seasons is stellar, albeit priced only for foreigners. Tanjung Rhu is gorgeous, my family’s most visited resort, and the beaches are still amazing. But personally, the whole “resort/spa” novelty wore off long ago. I prefer either cultural depth, as in Penang, or more undeveloped out of the way places. Of which there aren’t so many left in Malaysia, unless you head east. Or rather, East. 😉
        I love these pictures. As many have said they are very calming, and the inclusion of people in ” washed in with the tide” makes it a standout shot for me. Lovely.

  18. hi ming,

    just a curious why you take a lot of lens, do you using all lens you bring or you just bringing it ming.
    what do you think about AFS 20/1.8G,

    lasty, if you just can take 1 lens from all of that lens you have, on the field like this, which lens you choose ?

  19. “Perhaps it was brought on by me not particularly looking for anything and being receptive to possible scenes in a sort of photographic meditation/ relaxation”

    You’ve touched on something here which has interested me for a very long time: the idea of “peak performance”. I was a keen (but average in ability) tennis player in my teens, and through that I discovered a man named W. Timothy Gallwey who wrote a pretty influential book on the mental side of tennis – but it translates to pretty much any field. His primary idea was that we do our best work when we’re not trying too hard but when we are fully absorbed into what we are doing – so that our conscious, judging mind is not interfering with our creative subconscious. In terms of sports this means a sense of freedom in movement, and with photography I’ve come to interpret it to mean “those times where we see great shots everywhere without even trying to”. I mentioned this in an earlier article of yours, but there are times when I take a shot without really knowing why at the time, and then when I look at it later on I see something that I didn’t notice at the time of shooting. That kind of thing.

    If you’re not already familiar with the psychology of peak performance / flow, I imagine you would find it quite interesting given that your articles often have a distinctly philosophical tone to them…

    • I think of it as ‘being in the zone’ – yes, you’re not fully aware and operating on autopilot to some degree, and there’s simultaneously a meditative quality to your actions/observations and a manicness about how one runs from subject to subject – I certainly feel it at times, and those images tend to be ones I don’t necessarily remember shooting specifically, but am quite satisfied with afterwards.

      I’m going to ask PL about ‘peak performance’… 🙂

  20. Ming,

    Really enjoy the “only the clouds are truly free” theme. I think this is a great example of how communicating the artistic intent (in this case via a title) shapes a viewer’s interpretation (and expectation) of the image. Of course, it’s up to the artist to follow through with the created expectations and these certainly do. Also, very much enjoy the slight residual detail and color of the rider in “Homewards”; to me that adds that extra detail to the image that keeps my attention and enhances my appreciation (both aesthetic and technical).


    • Thanks Louis. More to come in that series – I view it as an ongoing project – but finding the right kind of clouds is difficult indeed, and the yield is extremely low. I suspect this one may be many years in the making. 🙂

  21. Wonderful set Ming. Very calming. Well Done!


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