Photoessay: dark matter

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I initially thought about renaming this one something to do with shadows, but then realized that we have an association of vagueness and indefinition to the term shadow. This doesn’t quite fit the nature of these images; I wanted to go for something a bit more solid and dense. Filmic shadows were what came to mind at the time of capture. Despite the apparent contrast level, a high degree of dynamic range was required to be able to carefully control exactly where the inflection point of white to black lay (which in turn affects compositional balance). There’s probably potential for a mini-project here; further exploration is required. Who knew a 10m stretch of garden could be so productive? MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, 4/50 C T*, 4/150 CF T*, CFV-50C digital back and processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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My ultimate photographers’ daybag in collaboration wth Frankie Falcon is available here until the end of October, in a strictly limited production run.


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. No more film for the Hasselblad ?

    • All digital these days. Traveling with film is a pain, and not only is it nearly impossible to get fresh chemical here – it’s just downright hazardous to have it around the house with a two year old running around.

  2. Wonderful monochrome imagery here. Good job.

  3. Ming,
    The pitch for the product definitely muddied your dark matter message, and the coherent human elements were missing, so personally this one did not command me to look for long…

    • Not every image has to have people…and experimentation is necessary for progress…

    • Carlos Polk says:

      Oh hell! Guess I need to re-read. I missed the pitch for the product. I might have enjoyed it. The other thing I missed was a dark message. Must have been very subtle…..

  4. Carlos Polk says:

    I was looking for a way to say what I was thinking and decided to use your words: “Who knew a 10m stretch of garden could be so productive?” Your ability to see beauty and interest anywhere is remarkable. I suppose I am departing from some of the other people in my preferences. Whereas I also was stopped by #1 and #4 like the others, I was more interested in the ones where the vine leaves are only seen as a shadow. There is an interesting implied life only found in the shadows on the wall. I learned something important from your use of the wall in this set. This could not have been done in color.

    • Right light, right subjects I suppose?

      The solidity of the shadows is what got me – light was so intense and strongly directional that the shadows were very hard-edged and appeared to take on depth and form of their own; the wall added to the impression of planes of leaves (as occurs with the real object).

  5. Richard P. says:

    Hi Ming, very interesting set. As usual your skill at capturing difficult lighting well is very evident. However looking at some of the images makes me feel slightly anxious and one specifically brings a more calming feeling (#4). I am trying to figure out why. Am I correct in saying that the level of contrast is lowest amongst all these images?

    • bob gallagher says:

      Well there is substantially less content in #4 and hence the mind/eyes are able to focus on “all of it” without any decision making necessary. And what there is has such interesting textures and is so sharply in focus. Reminds me of my efforts with a 4 X 5 view camera and Jobo film and print processor a few years back. The delight of seeing a 16 x 20 print in B&W was so rewarding… but alas I was “bright or lucky” enough to unload all that gear while pricing was still reasonable … 50cents of the dollar. I think ultra prints would be the answer to the rest of the set… for me now I love B&W on Epson P600 and semilustre paper.
      But what a nice manageable project taking photos in a small garden. Great idea, and very well delivered Ming as usual!
      Bob in Chicago

    • Thanks – interesting observation. You might be right; I think #4 has both lower contrast and lower spatial frequency, too – this gives the impression of a little less ‘pace’, if that makes sense…

  6. Lucy March says:

    The simplicity of one and four work best for me. As for their being worthwhile subject matter, for me, in showing us their beauty, you made them worthwhile. Great composition transcends subject matter.

  7. Beautiful contrasting dark on light, and light on dark compositions!

  8. I find that there are too many elements involved — especially when there are so many gradations of sharpness associated with the shadow ‘groups’ on various planes. What’s the subject? What am I supposed to be looking at within the picture. Perhaps they work better enlarged — where the viewer can immerse himself. Stylistically, it’s quite a departure…IMHO. Image 4 seems to have the most graphic intensity — though I still don’t understand what about it makes it a worthwhile subject. Reminds me of the work of Aaron Siskind. Thanks for sharing the images — but I’d appreciate more of your thoughts on the aesthetics and your motivation.

    • In an abstract, which these are intended to be, the whole frame is the subject – each portion should hold your attention for as long as you care to look at it, without over dominance of one portion over another. The apparently solidity (and associated real-ness) of the shadow plane was what struck me here – and how can that be used to provide a layer of abstraction between the real and the transient (also a relevant question for natural subjects)?

  9. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hmm – the fall of the shadows interests me – I’ve been thinking of picking a similar angle for the light shade on the side[s] of building[s], to add depth and texture and I found it interesting seeing how you work this with the textures of the plants & the sides of the buildings in the background. Digital is quite different in some respects from analogue, and one of the issues I’m wrestling with as I seek to familiarise myself with it in depth, is the difference in the ways the two mediums “wash out”. Highlights are touchier in digital, and without proper care, you just get a blank patch – with analogue, retrieval of detail was generally harder in deep shadow. There, I’ve stuck my neck in the noose – hope nobody yanks hard on the other end!
    At a macro level, I’ve been trying to explore this with my cymbidiums – they have an almost mystical sprinkle of sparkling spots, but on a white orchid, it’s very hard to capture it properly. I’ve noted in my brain’s hard drive the effect angular lighting has on building surfaces and once I put the orchids aside, I was intending to do a shoot to explore this in some depth. Lord knows what sort of photos I will end up with, doing that, but I should improve my knowledge base on how to work digital to capture a better image.
    Projects like that seem to be my best way forward, to work out what I can achieve with digital.
    Thanks for opening my eyes wider, Ming.

    • It’s basically a shift in dynamic range – you want an end exposure that’s lower than what the camera captures with digital, if you’re trying to replicate film. However, this isn’t optimum from an information capture standpoint because there’s more tonal gradation in the highlight stops – which means you still have to expose to the right, and then crush down afterwards. 🙂

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