Photoessay: Monolumpur, part I

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Today’s set is an anonymity-bringing-scale field test around the old part of Kuala Lumpur (Robin’s usual hunting grounds, though I’m sure you’ll see we came back with very different material) of something I’ve been working on for the last couple of months: an attempt at tuning a universal monochrome profile to my preferred style for the Nikon Z7. Whilst the Z7 doesn’t have a direct curve adjustment in-camera, it’s possible to add your own if you use the ‘Nikon Picture Control Utility 2’ software. It takes the place of the contrast and brightness sliders (my guess, ‘contrast’ pushes down the midpoint of the curve, ‘brightness’ brings up the upper quadrant). However, be warned: it seems the mapping is much more aggressive than the input/output controls suggest, resulting in much more contrast than you’d expect, so go easy on the curve. The only explanation I can think of this is that it’s acting higher upstream in the processing chain than we are used to with a curve in post processing. This is a good part of why tuning a profile has taken so long; it also seems that you need to apply some d-lighting (Nikonspeak for fill) to get the right lower midtone luminosity. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results – and light was absolutely spectacular while I was shooting, which doesn’t do any harm either. Is the Pen F retired? If not yet, its days are certainly numbered. Now, on to the greater challenge of color… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and MT’s special sauce in-camera monochrome JPEG profile.

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Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


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


  1. Stunning set of images – Part 1 – 3, very inspiring – thanks for the nudge!

  2. Love this. I used to read your posts, then got busy. 😂 Seeing this again makes me want to keep taking shots. 🙂

  3. Dear Ming,
    I have commented before on the Tropical sunlight feel. This really feels tropical!! Perhaps it is the rich shadows and textured highlights… who knows? You got it consistently perfect now!

    Now, if they only merged selected parts of Olympus’ and Nikon’s in camera software…

    • And the intense contrast, probably. Too bad we don’t get light like this very often, even in the tropics! 🙂 (most of the time it’s overcast from all of the convection evaporation).

  4. Hi, so why Pen F is retired in your opinion? You prefer this Nikon better?

  5. This set reminds me that monochrome is an excellent way to deal with that harsh mid-day sunlight that is otherwise unflattering to photos. Thank you.

  6. I wonder if it might be faster and easier to tune your profile with raw files you’ve already shot by converting them in NX-D using your profile since that’s supposed to replicate the SOOC output. Then maybe validate and refine it with field shots? Of course any excuse to go out and photograph is always welcome too!

    • I tried that – it was way too fiddly; mostly because I didn’t have the discipline to settle for 95% when 100% was within reach. So, if you force yourself you somehow make it work… 😉

  7. Thank you for some very fine photography! The photographs stand nicely on their own.
    As images of today’s KL …., I am not so sure.
    The images that I retain in memory from short visits (none exceeding a month) are of a livelier and more upbeat city! (It may well be that you have caught the city mood that only a Kuala Lumpur person/insider can sense.)

    • Thanks – well, not sure how long ago were you were here, but we’ve recently gone through hope, euphoria and now disappointment of same s*** different day with the change of government…maybe that’s what I’m feeling (and consequently, seeing, too).

      • Last visit: July 2018. Looking forward to the next one, possibly in July this year. Hopefully it’ll be a less melancholy outlook by then

        • Actually, you probably came at peak happiness post-election…

          • Maybe you have been a bit too euphoric, if i may say this. After all, these are just Politicians as eyerwhere in the world. The do promise a lot but when they got the power they do very little for the people, as everywhere.
            On the other hand changing a system that has been there installed for such a long time may be much harder than expected. I don’t know anything about your government, but maybe they need just more time?
            We have a saying here in Germany: Rome was not build in one day also.
            Sorry for your disappointment, hope things get better some day.

  8. Hi Ming,
    i hope you are better with the accident?
    I like you B/W pictures a lot, but on the same time i think your tone curve is made especially for rim light and harsh sun light. It looks like the opposite of burned out highlights, if you understand what i mean. You took the gradation out of the shadows. While you care for the highlights, there are little gradations in the transition between bright and dark.
    That works for some of the pictures, but on others i jus miss the details like in your last picture. Maybe I’m used to see color too much but the transition between the bright side of the faces and the dark side of the faces is very harsh. Maybe you try a curve a little more like Fujis Acros Simulation? Or like the rich tonality of the Leica Monochrom where you can see very subtle differences between the greys and you can work very sensible and exact in Post Processing?
    I didn’t want to sound rude, of course not, and i think your post processing works for most of your shown pictures. But i just think it does not work for an universal setting for B/W.
    I enjoy your articles as always so please go on with you excellent work and writing.

    • Slowly improving; nowhere near as fast as I’d like (or expected, to be honest).

      Yes, intentional crushing of the shadows to preserve highlights and drive ambiguity; but you can also expose + 1 more stop or so and have more information in the shadows visible should you choose. The highlights are actually far off clipping – they just need to be perceptually of sufficient contrast, not necessarily level 255. (In other words: already thought of that during calibration and setup 🙂 )

      • An it is always a matter of taste, isn’t it? I do appreciate you attempt in converting to B/W, and i like your pictures as always. My thoughts are only that this maybe not the universal setting for developing the files.
        On the other hand i don’t think there is a standard receipt for developing Black and White files. In opposite to color where your attempt is to show just what you’ve seen, B/W ist much more prone to you own interpretation. Black and white mainly lives in its shadows so if you go towards zero in a wide range your Pictures may be a bit abstract. Did you try to print them?

        • Printing: yes, this recipe is quite similar to how some of the more familiar (to me) films like Acros behave in the same light and same exposure intention – we had black shadows (but smooth transitions) too…

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