Photoessay: winter at the Nezu garden

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Trying something a bit different with this set; both because I’ve seen the Nezumuseum garden at its best and because it was just a different time of year to my normal trips to Tokyo. Landscapes in monochrome, especially high frequency ones (grass, leaves, trees etc.) tend to be challenging because they quickly devolve into something very messy looking and ‘hard’, as there’s not much spatial room for midtone transitions; having the benefit of color gives you a little more latitude to play with in this regard. However, I suspect here I was inspired subconsciously by the sort of high contrast and chaotic Japanese street photography genre to try and create something a bit different to the usual color explosions. Winter is a bit of a masochistic time to visit a garden like this, which is best in spring or autumn; it never really snows enough in Tokyo to blanket things into nice soft contours, either. But there is something sober and slightly dark about the scene that I find pleasantly contemplative. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70/4 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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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. Christoph says:

    Some of these photos are too chaotic IMHO.
    If I had taken them, I would have said to myself: “Yeah, ok, there is some composition going on, but it is too messy and too unremarkable, subject-wise” and not further bother about them.
    I tend to think that you have pushed your approach (which is interesting and creativity-sparking, don’t get me wrong!) too far here.
    We all know that it’s possible to talk oneself into that “that photo actually is not so bad, perhaps even great” while most probably it isn’t.

    • Thank you for your opinion. Display size matters, too (pursuant to earlier comment on monitor gamma/ profile for those finding them too dark). Sometimes structure decays at smaller viewing sizes – I agree for instance these don’t work on a phone.

      • Christoph says:

        No, I viewed them on my calibrated big monitor which I also use for image post processing.
        While it may not apply ALL the time, I moreover support the rule of thumb that you can spot an interesting picture already in a thumbnail of it. (Or some say: if it’s blurred or you view it through squinted eyes.) This isn’t the case AT ALL here with SOME of the pictures of this essay. Too much imagination stretching necessary to view them as great pictures, sorry.
        Otherwise keep up your outstanding work!

        • Okay, so you don’t like them – everybody is entitled to their opinion. I’m just pointing out that no matter how big the monitor, an 800px wide web jpeg does not convey the same information as a 45MP original (or even 4K) and yes, with some subjects, presentation medium matters more than most. I still stand by my work, but another point taken – I probably should have known better than to present these in this format.

          • Michael Demeyer says:


            You bring up a very interesting point about display size that might be an interesting topic for a future post. Back in the day when all photographs were printed, intended display size was a factor in making the image – at least for me. I found that I selected different subject matter (within an intended genre) and composition for a 4×5” contact print vs. a 16×20” enlargement.

            This gives me cause to think about what has happened to this consideration in my current digital photography where the vast majority is not printed but viewed on a wide range of (largely uncalibrated) devices.

            I don’t have an answer at this moment. Have to ponder this a bit…


  2. Pavel P. says:

    and very nice photos…

  3. Thank you again, for another lesson. This time for the visual illustration(s) of the challenges and rewards of “getting out of one’s comfort zone”, (masochism as you call it!) . Others have used the text phrase, you flesh it out.

    • All it is is doing something you normally don’t…and then doing it again until the results are something you like. (I think!)

  4. Bravo. Deeply moving because the tones are emotive. My favorite of your recent work. These combine a photograph that looks like a true, primal, untouched image with primal nature, the ambiguity of nature in a garden with a garden in a picture, a spectrum of contrasting ideas that has always intrigued me.

  5. Michiel953 says:

    Heart of darkness.

    I like them. But I’m in a dark phase.

  6. Michael Demeyer says:

    I also am not responding to the tonal values of these images. At times I have gone down extreme paths (in images, mixing music, etc.) only to find myself saying “WTF?” the next day. Of course, it’s an artistic choice and you have every right to it, but these images just don’t engage me in any way.

  7. Dear Ming, You definitely like to challenge yourself! I recently went to the Costa Rican Monteverde Cloud Forest where I essentially had the same lighting conditions as you did. The sensation of being in a forest on a sunny day is definitely present in your photos I must say.
    Like you, I also tried to do black and white but contrast was too hard for me to manage: sunlit leaves tended to become visually “detached” from the plants and the lack of connectivity confuses the brain. I ended up working in color which forced me to keep the camera/post contrast low, using the sun to spotlight subjects or showing translucence in leaves. As a consequence I got to upload only a few to my Cloud Forest Gallery in Photoshelter. Now, with more hindsight, I think that lowering contrast in my black and whites could ease perception of the general forest scenes in harsh lighting conditions: something I could not even try with older camera sensors but that the Z7 is far better suited to do.
    As always, I get to learn good things from your blog. I liked the most your pond images!

    • Yes, I’m a masochist…but if we don’t push ourselves creatively, it’s difficult to a) ‘expand the toolkit’ and b) make a different image. Sometimes limitations can be turned into other means of expression. Work with the abstraction and detachment instead of fighting it, for instance. I personally find challenge with organic subjects is usually trying to retain depth/ complexity – either you land up with a pixellated mess because there’s too much detail, or there’s not enough detail to retain that feeling of intricacy. Tricky balance…

  8. Michael says:

    With this and the earlier “Life, Observer and Observed” you seem to have gone to the dark side. Dark for the sake of darkness. Are you feeling quite alright? Not a cheeky comment, just concerned.

    • Mostly just exploring the lower tonal registers (and perhaps your monitor brightness or gamma are too low?), though I can’t deny that photography is a reflection of both the subject and the photographer. Perhaps there’s a degree of fatigue at the current state of the industry creeping in…

      • Pavel P. says:

        “fatigue at the current state of the industry”…. Can you tell more? What do you mean? I think I know, but not sure…

        • I could, but it wouldn’t be worth it for myself or the implicated parties. Let’s just say I’m blue in the face from saying photography and composition are independent of gear gear gear, and the gear that’s being released frankly has nothing much going for it because it does not fundamentally change the way we shoot or enable other creative possibilities…and the recipients of the tirade include brand principals trying to convince me otherwise (and expecting me to promote their same-same equipment, for free, of course).

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