Photoessay: life in Hanoi, part I

_5R04817 copy

Today’s photoessay is a little out of sequence – it is the first set of little snippets of life captured during the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass earlier in the year, but which until now have somewhat defied curation into a finished set (I blame that more on my schedule than anything). They are perhaps not cinematic in the traditional dramatic sense, but I do think they do make for interesting standalone viewing. I suppose that’s what unifies them: being a small window into another place. Enjoy. MT

Images shot mostly with a Olympus E-M5 II, Zeiss Otus 1.4/85, Zeiss ZM 1.4/35, and Canon 5DSR. _5R04089 copy

_5202414 copy
_5202231 copy

_5R05915 copy
_5201889 copy

_5R04160 copy
_5202106 copy

_5202834 copy
_5202750 copy

_5203256 copy
_5202871 copy

_5203021 copy
_5R05484 copy

_5203145 copy


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. In terms of colour you’re my all-time favourite photographer

  2. Because I am considering the Otus 85 I am wondering if you would have been able to focus as easily using the zeiss 135f2 if distance were not a factor?

    • The DOF transition is similar, yes. I find easier to focus because the focusing ring can be turned faster (less resistance) making it easier to judge the in focus point.

  3. Excellent series. And excellent illustration on how longer focal lengths work well in street photography, not 28mm equivalent as is often claimed to be the best lens for street.

    • Thanks. Like every other subject, you can use any focal length; the limitation is the photographer’s creativity/ imagination or need to conform to social expectations…

  4. Deare Ming. Forgive me if this is the wrong place to ask the following. I have been using a Ricoh GR for several years now and love it. I do however wish I had an additional camera with a zoom but the same quality as my Ricoh. Any suggestions?

    • Short answer: it doesn’t exist. You’re not the only one who’s been looking.

      • Well, not zoom, but Sigma DP Merril has 45 and 75 equivalent lenses in a small body that gives the same quality, but sadly only on low ISO and in very very slow and a bit awkward operation. And JPG only because of the miserable software. I still have the Ricoh GXR with 50 eq macro lens. That operates quite similarly to the GR but is of course bigger and a bit slower. It also comes with a 24-85 zoom module but again at great bulk, much slower speed and a bit quirky operation. Clearly a market opportunity.

  5. It was interesting to play the “which camera?” game before checking the provided info shot-by-shot. Would have nailed the entire series had the unusual ambient light in two shots not thrown me off. Did you find yourself using the EVF consistently with the Olympus, or often composing via the screen?

  6. Brilliant! Takes me back.

  7. Absolutely stunning.

  8. Very good stuff! I love available light photography! People tend to be less conscious of cameras because they are not expecting non-flash photography in darker conditions. Night photography is still the least explored genre, and one that offers a ton of promise with respect to great imagery.

    • Not always; people also tend to be a bit more on their guard at night. No idea why; perhaps something dating from when we lived in caves and natural predators abounded. But if you can be stealthy…then yes, I agree. Lots of options 🙂

  9. Great photos. I especially like the one with the guy on the motorbike. Ninja photography at its best! 🙂

  10. Absolutely amazing pictures:)

  11. I love the lighting especially the ones in the interior scenes.

  12. Absolutely gorgeous set Ming…I really enjoyed viewing all of them. So you adapted the Otus to the Oly? May I ask which adapter?

  13. Beautifully done series. The colors and clarity of each image is stunning.

  14. IO am noticing you are using the EM5-2 quite often now, do you use any native lenses or using adapted lenses. Only reason I ask, is that I really love your cinematic style and want to know what I can look forward to with more practice.

    • This is an old set actually; I don’t use the Olympus at the moment. You could use the 75/1.8 or 45/1.8s; I just happen to prefer the rendering of the Otii (and already own them, and was using them with another camera).

  15. Gerner Christensen says:

    Great set Ming and I love the way you see people and frame them up. Your cinematic work through time has fascinated me a lot and came in as a great inspirational source for inspiration.
    Composing and exposing ‘filmic’ with a still camera and make it look like the film stopped for just a second is really a challenging exercise, because there has to be some sense of the moment before and the moment after to make the scene appear fidel. You did it again 🙂

    • Thanks Gerner. It’s all in the curation when everything is candid – yields are vanishingly low…

      • Gerner Christensen says:

        Think I had a bit to many ”inspirational’s” in my comment ..hehe. I can recognize ‘tight curation’ rendering man in such a lively environment, and at times difficult light, is a great deal of gathering a successful set. Still there’s a lot of compositional challenge and intuition involved shooting along the theme out there in the streets. Perhaps one of the most intriguing styles one could ever pick up I think.

  16. These are great cinematics with some directed light and contrasty DOF in a few. I really appreciate this subject matter – there’s just more emotion in an image with people and context than some of the architectural shots you feature. I know it’s your style to use a telephoto to photograph people, but I would love to see how your close-up action shots would render with your style. Basically, more like the photo above with the two women sitting at a table. It’s got this grittiness to it – more like real life. Awesome!

    • Thanks. I have done quite a lot of that stuff before in the corporate documentary and on assignment work I’ve posted…it depends on the end look, and this style wouldn’t necessarily fit with closer proximity – or require several establishing shots to work.

  17. Sifu, for the close proximity shots, did you zoom in or got really close to them, either openly or discreetly? From my experience shooting in hanoi, I find that many are not comfortable to be photographed up close. Do you have the same experience?

  18. Great set, sifu. Love them all.
    Regards, Ken

  19. Wonderful images, Ming!

  20. Stunning photos as always. I really like the last one in the set. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke and taste the beer.


  1. […] series of images presented today is the conclusion of the cinematic Life in Hanoi set from a couple of days ago. During the curation, two visually very distinct groups of images […]

%d bloggers like this: