Photoessay: Tokyo cinematics II

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Continued from part one.

I frequently get asked if it is possible to work in the cinematic style with a wide lens; the answer is of course yes. There are a couple more considerations over the more traditional conception of the genre that is heavily dependent on longer focal lengths to split the scene into planes and blur the unimportant portions; it is true that the latter is much easier with a longer focal length due to simple rules of physics. However, use of the wide perspective is also important for several reasons, with the main one being trying to create a feel of involvement and immediacy for the audience. It can also be used in tight quarters and to create the impression of distance between observer and scene/subject. In all situations, the frame has to perceptually appear level – otherwise a very strong (and distracting) tipping sensation is produced. The wider the lens, the more care you need with levelling and keeping subjects away from the edges of the frame to avoid geometric distortion drawing attention to itself. Lens choice is also fairly critical because any out of focus areas are unlikely to be drastically out of focus; there will be a lot of transition zones. I personally prefer a smooth rendering here rather than a crisp one because it’s very difficult to reduce the prominence of background or foreground distractions after capture. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Leica Q 116, and post processed using the Cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.

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  1. These photos are true to their name – I feel like I’m inside a movie seeing them. The 3rd one is my favorite.

  2. I recall that you were using old Distagon 28/2 nicknamed “Hollywood”. Leica Q is better in cinematic sense?

    • I prefer the Q because it’s much easier to nail focus with and use with peripheral subjects, but the Zeiss rendering is more interesting…

  3. I love these shots with the Leica Q, and in general your 28mm shots. It feels like it has a pretty unique pop.

    I am curious how you were able to get some of the shots wide open at 1.8, with a shutter of 1/15, without over exposing everything. Was it really that dark, did you have to use heavy NDs, or just a lot of PP?

    Again, beautiful work!

  4. The taxi interior from the back seat is my favorite and most cinematic. If you crop the man out of the first photo at Hermes Ginza, you’ll have a much better photo, IMO.

    • If you lose the man, then you have a huge empty space on the lower right that isn’t balanced, plus there’s no narrative with the woman alone – now her eyeline reaches to the slightly unusual-looking man, and with that expression on her face, you wonder what’s she’s thinking…

  5. Very nice work,glad see your still doing some of your cinematic work, I find it very inspirational has almost all my photography is people In an environment of some sort of another. And Japan just happens to be my dream vacation!

    • Thanks – yes, still doing it 🙂

      • Sixth one down is a good example of something I see in a lot of your work. It almost looks like you use motion blur as apposed to say bokeh to achieve isolation. Intentional? Or perhaps an accidental result of a much lower minimum shutter shutter speed than I am able to get away with.

        • It’s deliberate. You get subject isolation but don’t lose identifiable context in blur, and it works when subject and background are too far away from the camera to throw out of focus – or subject and background themselves are too close together.

  6. richard majchrzak says:

    Ming , how did you get the light on the faces of the two people in the first picture? it’s unbelievable….

  7. muy bonitas fotos y comentario 🙂 me en cataría que te pasaras a mi blog a ver las ultimas fotos que he publicado, y si te gustan pues sígueme 😉

  8. Martin Fritter says:

    I prefer this set to the first. Probably it’s the more dramatic lighting. But you seem to get very nice results with the Q. I suspect you rather like the way it handles.

    • Martin Fritter says:

      Oh yes – are you using auto-focus on it, or manual?

      • Mixture of both. AF works well most of the time, but MF is more precise if your subject and background are at nearly the same distance or the subject lacks contrast.

    • This might sound odd, but with a wide there’s more ‘space’ in the frame for the lighting to be dramatic because you also have background shadow cues etc. Personally I liked the first set a little more, but it’s interesting to see this one appears to be more popular…

      I make no secret of liking the way the Q handles 😉

  9. Stunning images. i agree, these are some of your best cinematics yet. The tonality in 1 and 8 and the motion in 5 are amazing.

  10. Very nice set as we have come to expect. Since you’ve switched to MF for most of your paid work, how do you think the Leica Q will fit in for either paid and unpaid work. Will it often be with you when not on an assignment, or will the GR be back in the picture for that?

    Now that more time has passed since your review of the ‘Q’, have you had any lock-ups or other problems? I believe up until your review it had been solid. I think Diglloyd had some operational problems fairly early on.

    • The GR was sold a while back, so the answer is almost certainly not at all. The Q is closer in image quality to MF than the GR, but still a world away. It is much faster though, so it stays.

  11. As always Ming, great set and insight. Surprised no one picked up on the fact that you shot this with the Leica Q. Did I miss a review of it on your sight? I’ll check. Hard to say this BUT that is the first Leica digital I can say I would love to own (besides the MM, 246) if it was a 35 or 50mm fixed lens…. your thoughts on the Leica Q?… Thanx Daniel

  12. I got a feel of Tokio. I love the last photo and a girl with umbrella- so well done!

  13. Ming,
    great set, as usual (the first image is stunning) – and truly inspiring.
    I’m currently shooting cinematic (at least, I try 🙂 ) with my faithful 85 mm, but I think I should take the challenge and start using 28 mm.
    Let’s see what comes out !

  14. Ming, I do like these. I believe I’m getting there! :D)

  15. Looove cinematics. My fav. Excellent work. I’m now inspired.

  16. Gerner Christensen says:

    Cracking set Ming, master of the 28. In my opinion a more interesting story telling focal length over an 85. It’s such a challenge to to compose with a 28mm for cinematic without the scene is getting cluttered. I echo these images are very inspirational!

    • Thanks Gerner. Yes, for single scenes, a wide gives you a lot more options for context and relative primary/secondary subject size. It’s not easy to deploy though because you can easily have too much context…

  17. I agree. One of the best sets of the last year! I want to make a project out of the wide cinematic. It’s seems very challenging but very rewarding if I can pull it off. Very inspirational, Ming!

  18. No captions, Ming? What a pity. I just LOVE your captions, they are so sci-fi / Tom Clancy / Kurt Vonnegut / Ming Thein ! Please don’t let a few adverse comments from part of the audience cramp your style. Puhleeeeese. BTW., the photos are superb, I too used to love 28mm once upon a time. Then I got into portraiture, and now it’s all about the M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8 / E-PL5 combo 🙂

    • It seems captions seem to provoke some rather unpleasant comments and emails from some corners, so I’m keeping my mouth shut 🙂

      • Carlos Polk says:

        This is most unfortunate. I have always found your captions to be right on, and contrary to what some might say, definitely add another dimension to the blog – and insight into Ming Thein. I like to get some idea what you are thinking with the photographs. I sincerely hope that you will continue to use captions when you feel appropriate.

  19. Nice shots! It’s kind of weird, in a good way, to see a photo and say to oneself, “I could almost pinpoint the precise spot from where that was taken”. I was in Tokyo a month back (I tend to go there once or twice a year), and several of those pictures (the Tokyo Station and Ginza shots in particular) almost gave me a sense of deja vu…

    I see you met up with the Camera Hunter too. Haven’t met him personally, but I’ve had email correspondence with him, and what a gentleman he is!

  20. Bellamy gets around 🙂 This is getting stale but “Great photos”

  21. These might be my favorite cinematics yet Ming. How you use a wide angle for it is inspirational!

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