Photoessay: last of the Icelandic singles

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I have a slightly embarrassing confession to make: there are images that I can’t let go of, but probably should. They are remnants from my trip to Iceland nearly a year ago, but standalones that really didn’t fit in with any of the other series. It’s a sort of artefact of the site setup that posting single images is tricky because it breaks pattern too much unless there’s a whole thought catalog to go with it; the unfortunate result is that I’ve got a whole graveyard folder of images that work independently, but can’t really be curated into a photoessay or series. Some find life again as featured images, others land up illustrating specific posts, and yet others still – like this one – are held together tenuously enough by some rather weak thread that perhaps I can still post them. I admit it: I couldn’t curate these anywhere, nor could I let them go, but there’s still some emotional attachment. I’m sure somebody will use it to beat me over the head to remind me of curation discipline, and I’d probably deserve it. In the meantime…MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here

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

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. As I just started putting together a trip to Iceland myself (2019), I went through your galleries again. The island has been a personal go-to photo destination for a number of years now, but after hearing about the “tourist bus horror” from several sources (and after having been part of such a story years ago in Canada, when a bus with nothing but rowdy, selfie-taking youngsters seemed to stalk us at every stop we made), I was sure I was going to save Iceland for later and admire the Hawaiian landscapes first. Let’s just say your pictures are so compelling and fresh, that they made me change my mind the first time I saw them …

    What I was wondering though: you used a Hasselblad Field Kit, and an Apo-Lanthar 180. Were there moments, however, when you missed the ease and flexibility of a (couple of) zoom(s), and the primes felt limiting in some way ?

    I’m asking because Iceland will be my first travel destination dedicated to photography, and the first time I’ll really focus on landscapes. For now, I only have primes in my bag for reasons of image quality, or because they’re specialty lenses (macro, T/S – none of them are weathersealed though). And to be honest, because it feels liberating to go out and shoot with two primes, one for each D800/E.

    At the moment, it seems I can’t decide between adding a really good wide-angle zoom and a telezoom to the collection (which may be useful for other subject matter), vs. a couple of nice weathersealed primes (which, in the case of MF lenses, may have more limited uses outside landscape). I don’t intend to shoot BIF or wildlife, nor the dynamic/restless landscape shots with magnified and deformed foregrounds you see all over the place, so the focal length range I want to cover wouldn’t need to be huge. I do like the way my Zeiss 100 MP Classic can make me chuckle behind my screen while processing, quality-wise. Unfortunately, I really dislike (constantly) changing lenses in the field – and I only have (and am willing to carry) two bodies 🙂

    • We didn’t manage to escape the tourist bus horror, either – I just had to frame around it all.

      Primes v zooms: for landscape work, which is very much ‘slow’ photography relative to what I normally do, I don’t feel limited at all. It might have been nice to have two zooms to limit weight and lens changes in some of the more hostile environments, but I doubt lenses of adequate quality would have been any lighter overall. (I only had one body, FYI).

      I do find that sometimes having too many lenses doesn’t help, either – you frame the same thing ten different ways suboptimally instead of perfecting just one frame. Personally I think I could have been happy with just the 90 and 180 on that trip…

      • That’s exactly why I was leaning towards (a limited number of) primes: by picking a few focal lengths that work for you personally, you limit the number of ways a scene can be interpreted (that number probably still being infinite, though). I have found in the past, especially with the “slower” genres, that it really helps to clear the mind, focus, and, rather naturally and within one’s own style, guide you towards compositions (1) that fit the perspective of the lens, and (2) that are indeed stronger.

        It’s interesting that you mention the 90 and 180 mm. Somebody on a local forum suggested a 24-70 on FF, while others swore by hauling around the better part of the 2.8 trinity. Ultimately, the choice is very personal, as are the best pictures I think.

        I guess I still have to learn though to let go of the pictures I didn’t (or wasn’t able to) take, which is not that easy in the case of a trip that’s not likely to be repeated very soon. As such, thinking about it in terms of perfecting a single frame vs. filling up memory cards with endless variations that can’t seem to nail it, is actually very helpful. Perhaps it will even help me carve a path through the visual overload I will no doubt experience initially.

        In any case, thanks for the advice! Now, let’s start by shooting some landscapes with the stuff I have, and then take an informed look at those Zeiss rebates 🙂

        • Personally, I tend towards longer lenses for landscape due to layering and compression possibilities; you can’t do that with wides. I suppose this is further pushed by the fact that most landscape photos of a location tend to focus on ‘getting everything in’ and trending wide, so if you want something different…do the opposite.

          • I agree. Your series definitely stands out, even to the point that someone commented on one of the posts that you don’t seem to get landscape photography …

            To me, it rather seemed that you were able to capture the lay of the land, without succumbing to the temptation to simply show “the landscape” by using (ultra-)wides. Ironically, the way I see it, those kind of shots remove the viewer from, rather than show, reality because of the exaggerated perspective (or complete lack of it when there’s no strong foreground element), and commonly, the use of overplayed crutches such as unusual weather or light conditions, or worse: horribly saturated and blocked up colors, and HDR.

            Not sure if it’s only my personal interpretation, but the longer focal lengths also seem to bring a serenity to the pictures, or at least subdue the roaring power that often lies just below the surface.

            • I don’t conform to expected norms – but if I did, it wouldn’t be possible to make a different image to what’s already been done (and then why do it at all? I’m sure the same clown would accuse me of being unoriginal, all whilst never having actually used a camera themselves – but such is the internet, and I digress.)

              In hindsight I landed up shooting the details that immediately caught my attention as being different/ unique/ special – with the caveats of my own personal biases. It just happened that my own ‘focused’ vision matches a longer lens better than a wider one. Perhaps t is nothing more complex than that…

  2. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “.. embarrassing confession ..”
    ??
    What’s wrong with standalones?
    ( .. considering photography as an art .. )

    And a standalone must be strong enough on its own, in a series a slightly weaker photo finds strength through the story.

    Great photos all, although
    #2, 3, 7 & 9
    are my favourites.

  3. Lovely images as always. Perhaps the occasional singles post could be part of the pattern?

    • Thanks – oddly enough I don’t always have enough singles to make a whole bunch of them! I think of it as a sort of arrangement by spacing: a related series has little spacing between points so you can follow it easily – i.e. a line; a bunch of singles has to be randomly distributed across a 2D plane and not clumped…

  4. Charles Gates says:

    Thank you for sharing these images! I’ve been following your posts for some years now, but
    this is the first time I’ve been moved to comment. So you’ve changed me from a lurker to a participant. Thanks again for what you do and share.

  5. I can absolutely understand why you didn’t want to let these photographs go! I’d be hard pressed to pick my favorite; it’d probably have to be the one about half-way through where the light brushes the tops of the golden-leafed trees.
    As an amateur, I have no pressure other than my desire to improve, but I still need to remember from time to time that there’s not much point if I stop finding joy in photography. Maybe this series is a good reminder that even disciplined professionals deserve to be amateurs from time to time? Amateur in the original sense of doing it for the love of the photograph.
    Anyways, thank you for posting!

    • Thanks Sean. I discussed this very idea in the past – https://blog.mingthein.com/2014/09/13/being-a-pro-to-be-an-amateur/ – being an amateur in the true definition of the term isn’t operating at a lower skill level; it’s doing something for the love of it and not having the pressure of producing to the expectations of a client other than yourself. Which is the very best possible thing if you’re aiming to make a different image that satisfies the creator first and foremost…

  6. Tight curation to multi-photo sets tends to suppress the kind of playfulness that’s random and one-off almost by definition. I think there’s a lot of that in these images (not that they’re not also serious). I like it, even at the expense of coherence.

    • Agreed – you still have a high level commonality in the theme, but the individual images have a little ‘plot twist’ that prevents them from being directly causal…

  7. Hello Ming !
    Excellent images.
    Sincerely,
    Anatoly

  8. These are lovely!

  9. excellent!!!

  10. Pavel P. says:

    Perhaps…you can write, someday, a post about self curation…the process…series versus single photos…maybe you wrote about it before?

    • Not a bad idea, thanks. In a nutshell though it’s simply whether there is a narrative sequence formed by the images, or if they are really unrelated other than by sharing a very broad theme.

      • Pavel P. says:

        In my case I fight in this. It connected with the philosophy (motivation) of taking the photo. When I go shooting, which is on almost dailly basis, I have no particular idea of a project. Just going to places I find motivating and photogenic for me. And I en up with lots of photos, which I struggle to connect into a series afterwards. They are related, they could possible be a project, but they are just a pile of photos….never ending stream of photos posted on the Internet…

  11. Love your images!!

  12. Stunning first two images, Ming. Really love them.

  13. astonishing…from a astonished seasoned person…

  14. Dimitris says:

    Definitely NOT beating you over the head. These are good!
    Did you notice the eyes in the first one?

  15. Beaux paysages.
    ça fait rêver !

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