On assignment photoessay: Development details, part II

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As promised – the continuation of the previous set of images shot at the same time at the same location, but curated and psotprocessed to very different objectives. You’ll notice that there are very few overlaps; different mood, different images. Perhaps the biggest change is in the handling of light and shadows: the very hard tropical sun that creates black hole shadows that works so well for monochrome is tricky to manage in color; especially when it comes to foliage (of which there is plenty here). There’s a lot of midtone dodging required to ensure the tonal transitions from highlights to shadows are natural; but not so much that things look flat. Some portions never quite get sun at this time of year due to the orientation of the plot, meaning we had to get creative in post again to ensure coherency – highlight dodge, midtone burn (the opposite for the areas in direct sunlight). I personally like the Magritte-esque clouds, and the eveningscapes… MT

Shot with a D850, 19 PCE and Sigma 100-400 (unfortunately there aren’t really any equivalents in the Hasselblad system yet) and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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


  1. Another nice series — or pairing — of articles. I prefer the b&w overall, although the lounge chairs in the pool really sings, and appreciate the differences in images. A very nice contrast (no pun intended).

  2. Martin Fritter says:

    These – and the preceding set’s- are fantastic. Pristine and serene. Among your strongest work to date, at least IMHO! Care to comment on the Sigma? I don’t recall your use of a zoom lens before this.

    • Thanks. I used to use the 80-400VR (v2) a lot – it’s very useful for compressed compositions. The Sigma 100-400 is not bad, but its stabiliser does not seem to play nice with the Z7 so I will likely be swapping it for something else soon.

      • Alex Carnes says:

        Are you selling your D850 then? I don’t know if I’d change my mind if I tried the camera for myself but I still don’t brim with enthusiasm for chopping mine in for the Z7…

        • Not for the moment; I like to shoot with two bodies and there are still situations where I’d prefer an optical finder for the nuance (very low light, for instance). That and secondary market value for photographic goods is really poor now…

  3. Alex Carnes says:

    I like them – very nicely done, well shot etc. Critically, I think there’s a danger that these very pristine, highly polished compositions can come a bit close to a CGI look. Or is that deliberate? The low light ones look more ‘photographic’ to me.

    All very professional though and clearly a proper job!

    • Thanks – yes, the graphic style is very much deliberate…

      • Alex Carnes says:

        Yes, I can see that you like that kind of presentation. Perhaps a future article on the convergence between CGI and photography? No one’s better placed than you to talk about it because you’re a photographer who obviously likes that sort of real-but-unreal style. And there’s a view among certain commercial pros I’ve spoken to who think that CGI is a threat to their livelihood!

        I like your work a lot so this isn’t a negative remark, but the first image at the top of this article could’ve come off the front of the manual for AutoDesk’s latest 3D rendering software… you can see what I’m getting at can’t you?!

        • I think maybe I didn’t express myself clearly: I don’t want to give the impression of CGI/ unreality so much as a clean presentation…much of which is lost if you only view at web sizes. It’s very different at the large print size the client requested as there’s enough random reality remaining that’s clearly visible.

  4. Beautiful set. Viewing at iPad size I certainly don’t see any absence of Hasselblad. This place looks good enough to live in — and I’m too old to find cities attractive. One question: are those parasail wings up top designed to break off when the typhoon hits? Or does the whole building lift off?

    • Thanks – at web sizes you see difference in dynamic range (and sometimes color gamut). Of course resolution is moot…

      Fortunately we don’t get typhoons here 🙂

  5. Thanks for your answer Ming. You have a deep sense of geometry in your architectural photography and this was a great photographic subject.

    Like you, when using an optical viewfinder, my composition is locked by my previsualization. The slight compositional changes I felt were needed after switching to black and white on the Pen F were in photos looking up on buildings. A subtle change in the angle. Maybe it is because our brains process luminance separate from color and this favors geometry, or maybe colors have a visual weight that we need to balance the composition? I will try to look into this more systematically as it is something that happened in my first days with the Pen F.

  6. Dear Ming, you were very right in saying that the two series do not overlap. The quality of the light seems to be the determining factor governing your composition and choice of subject for each series. I suppose some photos could work in either Color or Black and white. Good thing we can decide afterwards! Does it happen to you (especially with the Pen F which I also have been using for the last months) that you frame a color photograph and then, if you switch to Black and White, then your choice of framing changes as well?

    About the tropical feel, yes the palette and the elements are unambiguously tropical. However, I feel more the strength and quality of the tropical sunlight in the Black and White series.

    • Thanks. Composition definitely changes with color or mono depending on the prominence of the various elements; things can skew wildly with color. Similarly I went for harder contrast in the monochrome set

      With the Pen F I tend to compose from the outset either in color or B&W with the VF set appropriately; it doesn’t make a difference to my visualization as I do that anyway with an optical finder, but I do find that less or no gradient rebalancing is required in post.

  7. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Interesting how differently you have chosen motifs for the colour series,
    except #4 and #7.
    ( Partly a result of client wishes, I suppose.)

    #7, of course, lives by its lively blue;
    and #4 gains a very different life in colour.

    Did you have to wait long for that special small cloud in #8 or the right shadows in #7?

    A very nice collection, methinks!
    * * *

    Now, verticals in architecture photos can play funny with (my) seeing, take #11 as an example (and the left building in #13).

    When I look straight towards the horizon, even from a close distance, house+reflection easily acquires a very slight hourglass appearance.

    The verticals are, of course, vertical, but when looking upwards – or downwards at the reflection – the top stories appear wider (because in real life we expect the verticals to appear to converge) and when then looking horizontally again I believe the conflict between that and the reality makes that very small hourglass effect appear and again disappear.

    ( In #1 I experience a simpler effect, the whole photo appears to be a little wider at the top.)

    • Thanks – lots of opportunism with the clouds, to be honest! It was fairly windy so not too bad.

      Verticals: you bring up a good point. Unless a very compressed view or the lines are close to the edge of the frame, I tend to leave a little convergence in because it looks more natural. This isn’t of course possible with a shift lens; you get the slight impression of divergence…

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        “.. leave a little convergence ..”

        and it can, as you hint, be a critical balance between a strict composition and a more natural look.
        ( And the tradition to keep verticals vertical can be too ingrained in the viewer…)

        And yes, this conflict lessens with a longer lens, but the shorter lens can give this effect of really being there, another balance to solve if one *can* move about!

        • Kristian Wannebo says:

          Would a *very* slight fisheye effect in #11 give a more natural look?
          I wonder…
          ( But I guess it would just look as trying an effect, unless it was so small it didn’t make a difference to the look.)

        • Oddly enough, *too* short a lens and you land up feeling distant again – both because of relationship of size of objects to angle of view, but also because anything too foreground-dominant feels very unnatural (and so one backs off to try and lessen this).

          • Kristian Wannebo says:

            but not very odd, really?

            Now, I want to move *closer* to lessen the effect of a too dominant foreground and to feel the perspective to be more natural!

            And a *too* short lens then at best means standing too close for comfort to a very large print. I want to back off to see more of the image and then any naturalness falls apart – breaking the illusion of being there.

            ( When they make a wide angle lens pan in television, the filmed object seems to rotate on its own – unless you sit close to a very wide screen. On a cinema screen it might work.)
            – – –

            But I think perhaps we have through the years slowly learned to see photos also from shorter lenses as looking more natural – there’re individual limits, of course.
            ( In the 1960s 21mm [FF-eq.] was the shortest…)

            And photographers can adapt their compositions to the ever shorter lenses on the market, making also longer viewing distances work well.

            Just think of the very wide interior photos estate agents advertise with nowadays.
            ( I guess *they* have to tread close to the limits..)

            • I think human vision has perspective somewhere between 21mm (including peripheral vision) to about 100mm (‘focused’ vision). We tend to adjust our compositions accordingly. Anything outside that draws attention by being an obviously different perspective that’s not so easy to relate to; it’s tricky not to use this as a crutch when composing – and harder to balance well for the same reasons, too.

  8. William Rounds says:

    Excellent +

  9. richard majchrzak says:

    excellent all Utopia pics , but ..the last one is exceptionally surreal , thanks!!!


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