Photoessay: textures of earth

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I think of this set as a fractal scale experiment: nature is self-same and self-replicating to some degree at different distances; what breaks this pattern is the presence of manmade elements of reference that provide a sense of size. Without those, it’s not so easy to tell if we’re looking at a bunch of very small bushes, or a mountain covered in massive trees. I was at varying heights for this series – everything from about 50cm to 40,000ft. Yet with the exception of some unremovable haze, the whole presentation is surprisingly consistent – which I find quite remarkable. MT

This series was shot over Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia, with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


More info on Hasselblad cameras and lenses can be found here.


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


  1. Another very strong set. Thanks. I just picked up an out-of-print monograph “Harry Callahan: Color.” He started back in the early ’40s and kept it up for the rest of his life. You’d like it, I think.

  2. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    You have unwittingly had another success, Ming – I was going to write to you privately to air an idea that has been floating around in my mind for some time, looking at your photos – but now you have blown me out of the water with these photos. So here’s what I was going to “rabbit on” about.

    Most of us shoot with full or half frame cams, and look enviously at what you achieve with your ‘blads.

    One attempt to narrow the gap, was a suggestion – I forget who made it – that the sensor on the H5D-50C is only 67% larger than a full frame sensor, so – it was argued – the difference is not great. Did I mention my loathing of “opinions”? – I believe I did, a few days back. 🙂

    So – what IS the difference? Well, for a start, I see it in ALL your shots. I stare at the quality of the images like the little green eyed monster, sigh a few times, look at my bank statements, and go back to my cams, resigned to the fact I can’t match yours.

    What I was thinking, before you posted these shots, was something Ken Rockwell said about people with pixel envy. At the time, a large proportion of pros were shooting with 16MP full frame cams, BY CHOICE. Plenty more pixels were available in a range of other DSLRs out there in the market place, but what the pros wanted was not “statistics” – what they had to produce, to sell their photos, was image quality. And they claimed to be getting more information with cams with an apparently lower pixel count. The explanation put forward was that the lower pixel count meant larger pixels – and larger pixels captured more information – which enabled them to produce better quality images. Ken Rockwell’s rather sharp conclusion was that if the pixel-mania junkies really wanted a “sharper image” they should all junk their DSLRs, buy any medium format cam and fit it with a half decent prime second hand on eBay – and they’d get FAR sharper images than anything they could ever hope to produce with any DSLR.

    You’re not just a more creative photographer than I am – your technical knowledge of these things is a zillion miles ahead of mine. It’s only been in the past 12 months that I’ve really decided to get serious about digital and I have a huge amount to learn, so I apologize if this means I am leaning on you at times.

    But now I am curious. What is YOUR “take” on all of this? I see the pixels in your current ‘blad a 6 microns, as against 4.9 (??) on my Nikon D810. I love my D810, don’t get me wrong – but there’s no way I can imagine it producing images as tack sharp as your H5D-50C**. Of course this stuff only starts with pixels- both the number and the size. It’s also heavily affected by things like processors, etc.

    ** (It does, however, produce some fantastically good shots – ably assisted by my life-long love affair with Carl Zeiss’ glass 🙂

    • I’m now about 22,000 images in on the H5D, 4,000 each on the H6D and CFV-50c, and another 2,500 on the X1D. They all use the same sensor and slightly variations of optics (Fujinon, Zeiss, Nittoh). I’ve had about 40,000 on the D810 and another 100,000 odd on a pair of D800Es. All in all: I think pixel acuity under ideal circumstances for both H and N is the same – that’s Otuses, EFC, LV focus and tripod on the D810, and something similar on the ‘Blads. However, the MF stuff seems to give me two things the D810 doesn’t: color accuracy, and dynamic range – there’s another stop at base ISO, and that advantage widens somewhat as ISOs increase. I’d say I’ve got no more than 6-7 usable stops at ISO 3200 on the D810, but it’s probably 8-9 on the Hasselblads. I suspect this is both down to larger pixels (i.e. better input SNR) and the 16 bit image pipe (though the sensor doesn’t produce 16 bit natively, the nonlinearization for highlight rolloff has more space to breathe in 16 bits than 14).

      At the pixel level, there’s more going on still: I suspect there’s a complex relationship between flange distance, real focal length, maximum aperture, and lens performance that falls in favour of medium format – of course this may be because there are no ‘discount’ MF lenses since it makes no sense if you’re spending on MF to begin with; and at the same time, it’s quite possible that MF shooters just have a bit more discipline and better technique because you’ve got to be pretty serious to make that kind of investment.

      All in all: in practice, there is a difference that falls in favour of MF most of the time; sometimes it’s relatively small, sometimes it’s significant.

      Or maybe it’s all in the mind 🙂

      • Alex Carnes says:

        Flange distance seems to be quite an issue with mirrorless APS-C and FF cameras, lens-sensor reflections being a major grumble when the rear element is so close to the sensor. I still need the D810 when the sun’s in the frame! Strong vignetting seems to be another problem. I just have a feeling that some recent mirrorless mounts aren’t going to last in professional circles…

        Regarding your pictures – a good idea and very well executed as usual. In a few cases I’d say perhaps be a bit careful that images like these don’t look a bit earth science textbook/satellite/Google Earthy, but they’re mostly very nice indeed. Refreshing after the usual same-old from everyone else!

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Hmm – with the Otuses, I can get pretty close (maybe even match?) but as you say, there are other issues. Colour accuracy is clearly HIGHLY important. Dynamic range is extremely important to me – it was the principal reason for giving up on compact cams – I thought compact would be “useful”, providing me with insurance against being caught with no camera at all – but I think Pascal nailed that, suggesting it would be far better to use an iPhone in those situations 🙂 But those are all individual issues. My impression, based on looking at heaps of your shots and all of mine, is that your cam – no doubt with the assistance of your expertise 🙂 – is, overall, comfortably in front of the D810. As a pro, you NEED quality – I can fool around, and no harm done – you don’t get that luxury. You also have to produce larger prints than I do – I can choose whatever size I want to – and that also favours the MF over the FF, for your purposes.

        And you can recoil in mock horror, if you like – but I love shooting with my weirdo Canon PowerShot G7 MkII (with its 1 inch sensor & 20MP) or the D7200 (with a half frame sensor & 24MP). They clearly aren’t the same standard as the D810, but for what I use them on, they take very good quality shots anyway.

        • No need to recoil. I enjoyed the E-M1.2, and really shockingly – I own a 100D and enjoy that quite a bit, too. Not everything requires 50MP and MF 🙂


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