Photoessay: Over water, from above

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A set like this takes a long, long time to come together – you are at the mercy of both situational opportunity and the weather. On top of that, sometimes you don’t realise you’re seeing things in a particular way until you’ve done it for a very long time and then start to recognise patterns in the images you prefer, and the images you keep taking the next time you’re in the same situation. Whilst most of these were shot from passenger aircraft (also putting you at the mercy of window cleaners and seat allocations at check in), some used drones, helicopters or charters. All of these have one thing in common: none of them were deliberate captures, as in I didn’t make a dedicated trip just to shoot for this project or make this kind of image. They’re the b-roll and the extras we get on the way because something touches us at a subconscious level and we feel compelled to capture it. What I do notice common to the images of this set is a sort of distant dreamy calm; I have to admit this is a very foreign feeling to me, but not unpleasant… MT

Shot with a wide variety of hardware. Mostly processed with Photoshop Workflow III

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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. Kieron Nelson says:

    I am really intrigued by your choice of the crop on image number 3. It is one I would never have used or thought of. I find it very compelling and I am sure there is a reason why? Is it the negative space, or the simplicity of it. My eye is pulled down to the bridge. Newbie here.

  2. Michael Hanson says:

    Great images. If you ever fly to the US from East Asia, try to transfer at Seattle. That section of the Rocky Mountains is incredibly beautiful from an airplane.

  3. Always pick an airline seat either in front of the wing or far enough behind. If you’re too close behind the wing you get the heat distortion from the engine! Learned that the hard way. An ideal air flight lens is my Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8.

    • Exactly. However, some aircraft aren’t physically large enough to be ‘far enough behind’ – and with the airlines increasing the size of their premium cabins, this is often not an option…

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Sigh – back in the past, McDonnell Douglas produced a DC9 that had a wing like a ruler, affixed to the fuselage towards the rear of the plane. Practically every seat in the aircraft was in front of the wing!
        Absolutely terrifying, landing in one at Australia’s national capital (Canberra) in a sidewind, because the plane had to bank slightly coming down, the wing area was minimal, and the wings were a bit long for landing at any kind of angle!

  4. Wow. I always love your photoessays but this may be my absolute favorite. I mean, they’re all different obviously and each have unique qualities, but just from a sheer “favorites” point of view…. this may be it. Excellent variety of subjects and compositions and of course your usual high-quality imagery. The 1st one and the 12th one (the second image with the boats) would make great prints. I mean, most if not all of these would, but those two would be great to hang on a wall.

    Question: do people look at you weird when you pull out an H6D on the flight? Haha. (BTW, I have no idea how you manage to carry-on a Hasselblad DSLR gear kit, you must have some serious packing skills)

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Hi Matt – this guy has skills coming out of his ears! That’s why we all queue up here, waiting for his next post! Packing is obviously yet another one of them!

    • Thanks – I wonder how much of it has to do with a very long back catalog of curation and a lot of images to curate from…or just the fairly inaccessible nature of the subject matter itself meaning that such images are less common than say, street. Prints are always available 🙂

      As for packing – on work trips I fly/flew business, or an airline that doesn’t care about carry on weight. Economy these days is impossible for heavy equipment, and there’s no way I’m checking in a Hasselblad kit. Funnily enough, nobody has ever weighed my (usually 25-30kg roller) in premium cabins…

      • Nice! I don’t fly like… ever. I’ve flown twice in my life. But I’ve driven from the eastern U.S. to California and back 5 times (about 2,300 miles). So I don’t know anything about the different options, haha.

        How much are prints? I’ll likely contact you when I have some disposable money.

      • Oh, BTW – what are the things in a few of the pics that look like bridges – but also don’t quite look like roads. Hard to tell without being able to zoom in further but I’ve never seen anything like them – with that design over water. Particularly in the 1st and 3rd pics.

  5. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Your career has offered you opportunities that few people have. These photos are part of your reward, for the work you do. Thanks for sharing them.
    Most of the time when I attempt a shot from a plane window, the damn thing is either dirty or beginning to decompose & showing a kind of speckled light all over it, which defies using it as a “hole in the wall” through which to take photos. I did once charter a helicopter – front seat, too, alongside the pilot – with seemingly nothing, between me and the world passing below. That was a great opportunity, but it wouldn’t begin to compare with your shots!

    • Thanks – I clean the windows with lens wipes before (yes, people look at me weird) and have serious anxiety issues if I get a dirty one 😅

      But I have my fair share of frustratingly failed images because of dirty glass though…

      • You need to patent a ‘dirty frame subtraction’ method, that would make you a very rich man I suspect!

        • It could work if you had a clean/neutral thing on the other side to use as a reference frame – it would be pretty easy to do using the right blending mode and a PS layer. Problem in this situation lies in keeping the camera in exactly the same orientation relative to the dirty window for both shots.

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