Photoessay: San Francisco street monochromes

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The pizza man

Following on from an earlier article about light and mood in monochrome, I feel some examples are in order. Though these were all shot in San Francisco, they are from different eras in my career. Nevertheless, I believe the feeling I personally experience in San Franciso is consistent – one of possibility and excitement reinforced by the weather and tempered by something slightly along the lines of wondering if you’re going to live up to the standards of the city or stand out like a hick – there’s this sort of sophistication and modern edginess, I suppose. And nights are quiet rather than being lively (or I’m simply going to the wrong places). Enjoy! MT

This set was shot with a diverse range of equipment, but processed using the techniques covered in the Monochrome Masterclass workshop video.

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One human silhouette

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The chess players

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Partial intrusion

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Modern thinkers

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Anticipating bad news

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The watcher

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You are not one of us

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The risk of being faceless in the big city


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


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


  1. Beautiful tones and angles Ming, yeah it came across as a quiet city at night to me too. Just another reason to move there for me!

  2. Great to see these, thank you, just what I have in mind after going through your Monochrome Masterclass, albeit my outings will be in London and therefore a bit gloomier perhaps 🙂

  3. Wonderful series Ming. “Untitled” has me wondering about the relationship between the two men.

  4. Great images! It’s really great that unless I click the image for the exif data, I could never tell you used different cameras. Photos from a m4/3 camera vs medium format is barely recognizable to me; that’s something. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks – at this size differences should be pretty small and limited to tonality only (dynamic range of that Pentax is at least 3 stops greater than M4/3…)

  5. As usual the execution is impeccable. I love “Modern Thinkers” and “You are not one of us”.

  6. Gerner Christensen says:

    I really love your photo essays Ming. Short introduction and then the study. I think the bits and pieces here leaves me back with a certain feel of SF even I have never been there. What I find exciting is not only what you included in your composition, but where you were more exactly and the idea about excluded surroundings. A lot left to phantasy and imagination.
    *5566648*, *Descent* and *Anticipating bad news* are fabulous !

  7. I like the photos taken in 2013 more than the later . But that is just me – a direct feel rather than any analysis.

    • Lots of subtle changes between the earlier and later images; well done for noticing. Unfortunately one of the consequences is that the later images are optimised for print and don’t always have as much punch at web sizes. 🙂

  8. Jaap Veldman says:

    Hi Ming,

    Apart from the quality of the photographs,
    you also very often show that titles can greatly add to the experience.
    “You are not one of us” is a fantastic title for that photo and made me laugh out loud.

    The right title in your head before you raise the camera, that significantly adds to the fun, doesn’t it?

  9. Yesterday? 🙂

  10. John Nicholson says:

    This and the previous post are full of beauty AND learning material! Many thanks.

  11. A nice timely photoessay for me Ming. I’m planning a trip to SF in November to indulge myself in 7 days of photography. One of the things I struggle with when photographing such a well known and iconic place is how to capture the essence of the place and keep it recognisable without just taking the usual tourist shots you can see on a thousand postcards and million flickr uploads.

    • I think that’s a very valid problem for all of us: the only solution is to observe, figure out what identifies ‘SF’ (or any other place, for that matter) to you and include the bare minimum required…

  12. “Modern thinkers” is so quintessentially urban America…although I guess you could take that shot in any modern city nowadays. Despite always thinking of SF in purely colour terms, because it can be such a colorful city,these images work very well at conveying a different mood. I recall taking a long loop tram ride late at night, 11ish, and also being surprised at how sedate the city became in the evening. Except in the Castro, which was a bit livelier, but that’s not quite where my wife and I wanted to hang out, with all due respect to the residents there. 😉

  13. Wonderful images. I need to get back to San Francisco.

    There seems to be a typo: Following on from yesterday’s article

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