Street Photography Workflow

Apparently infographics and flowcharts are all the rage these day, so I thought it might be cool to produce a workflow chart to show you my street photograph process. The chart is quite self-explanatory I think.  [Read more…]

A small change in workflow…

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…can yield surprisingly major results. Think of this post as something of a continuation of the previous On Assignment; the reasons why will become apparent shortly. Over the last year or so – I think coinciding with switching to Hasselblad – my shooting/curating workflow has become quite different, and I think the shift in my output has as much to do with the change in process as hardware. In some ways, the change is due to hardware limitations – but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What I’ve always done in the past is some level of during-shoot curation; both for technical qualities (exposure, sharpness etc.) and aesthetic/ creative ones. During personal or teaching outings, I’d be much more disciplined and ruthless in throwing away what I’d consider marginal images; for client work, somewhat more relaxed – keeping doubles and variations just in case (which has proven fortuitous in the past).

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New: Workflow III for Photoshop or LIGHTROOM

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Workflow III unifies workflow across Photoshop and Lightroom, works with a single curve in RGB mode only, eliminates the need for color correction and includes my custom profiles for most popular recent cameras (the full list below), compatible with both PS and LR. Almost every image you’ve seen on this site since the beginning of 2016 has been processed (or reprocessed) with Workflow III.

Click to continue after the jump for more info, testimonials and to buy.

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New: MT’s Weekly PS Workflow Classroom

PS weekly review

It’s time to take postprocessing further in the new year.

Given the popularity of the photoshop and postprocessing videos, and the continual feedback for more of the same – I’ve decided to try an experiment for 2016. Every week, with the first instalment available on 3 Jan 2016, I’ll be putting out a new video. The concept is simple: it’s a classroom where submitted images are critiqued and postprocessed and subscriber questions answered. This is the closest I can get to a providing a consistent learning environment for a large audience.

  • Subscribers can submit images of their own; I will try to critique all of them
  • We select the most interesting to post process in ACR/photoshop using workflow II, with a discussion of the rationale behind it
  • Any subscriber questions are answered
  • In addition, I postprocess images of my own so you can see the complete workflow from capture and conception to completion – to see how the complete ‘idea’ comes together (i.e. capture with previsualized output)

Each weekly video will run for ~1h15min.

[Read more…]

Managing the postprocessing workload

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The sigh of relief on completion

Today’s article is a practical one: how to efficiently deal with the postprocessing workload and overhead, especially when you’re shooting in enormous quantity. I originally wrote this on the back of several back to back assignments and trips, but for some reason it got buried in the deluge. Now that things are a little quieter, I’ve had a chance to revisit and amend. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s got the twin problems of shooting too much and then suffering from editing fatigue, in turn resulting in compromised selections and postprocessing…

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Digital posterity: will your images survive you?

An old family photograph: the young man in the center is my grandfather; he passed away 22 years ago in 1992.

Back story: my grandmother’s passing last year and sorting of her effects unearthed a number of photographs from a much earlier era; my guess is the mid 1950s; that’s the better part of 65 years ago. There weren’t that many – about 10 in all. Ostensibly being the authority on all things photographic in the family, they were passed to me for restoration. Combined with a recent SSD failure on my primary machine, it got me thinking on a subject beyond backups: how can we ensure our images survive us? Do we even want them to?

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General photographic workflow tips

Whilst it would be impossible to cover absolutely everything you need to know to be proficient in photography in a single article, the aim of today’s piece is to provide the amateur to hobbyist an idea of the things to keep in mind in order to be able to focus on producing images. It’s something that’s been quite frequently requested in the past few weeks – perhaps a sign that my reader base may be shifting somewhat – so I’ve decided to take a crack at it in a way that makes it both accessible yet still somewhat relevant for the more advanced photographer. Where applicable, the section header links to a more detailed article. I’ll approach this from a in the same sequence as I’d normally deal with my own photographic workflow, in a sort of annotated checklist format.

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Teaching update: Photoshop workflow DVD, August Email School intake

1. By popular demand…presenting Ming Thein’s Introduction to Photoshop Workflow DVD!

Thank you to everybody who participated in the earlier survey on whether a DVD covering my Photoshop workflow would be useful – it seems that nearly a thousand of you thought it would be, and that’s more than enough justification for me to produce one. I’m just sorry it’s taken this long – commercial work and everything else gets in the way…

However, I’m pleased to announce that the DVD is finally complete and available for sale; it covers:

  • A basic explanation of the working environment of Bridge and Photoshop, following CS5.5 (CS3,4, 5 and 6 are similar; I don’t use any tools here that aren’t available in the other versions, so it’s a very flexible workflow)
  • A runthrough of the functions of Camera Raw
  • My personal workflow – if you’ve ever wondered what my postprocessing process is, or how I get the style and look you see on the site and in my commercial work, this is for you.
  • Several end to end processing examples – I’ve picked a number of files that I’d consider difficult or processing-intensive to use as step by step walkthroughs.
  • The Camera Raw portion – where about half the work is done – also applies to Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, too. The buttons may be different, but the fundamental principles of tools don’t change between software – dodge is dodge, burn is burn, and curves are curves.

Total runtime is about 1h 15min.

Checkout now via PayPal

This will be the first in a series of many DVDs in which I’ll spend more time detailing and explaining the various functions of Photoshop and their application to photographers, but it makes the ideal starting point for anybody who would like to get started in serious postprocessing, or perhaps are wondering why their images lack that punch and sparkle.

Please note – for KL residents, happy to do MEPS – please send me an email to make arrangements.

2. Email School of Photography August intake

I’ve now cleared the pipeline somewhat, which means I can take on a fresh batch of students for my Email School of Photography – more details here. It’s a unique, fully-customized correspondence course tailored to your skill level and photographic objectives – learn what you want to learn, at your convenience. So for all of you who were on the fence, now’s the time to sign up.

The course is just US$800 for ten sessions including a detailed portfolio review; once again payable via paypal to mingthein2(at)

Thanks in advance for your support – all these little things help me keep producing content and keep this site running. MT


Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


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

Video: A B&W workflow tutorial

After the series of articles on color and B&W – and of course the M-Monochrom review – I got a huge number of emails asking about my workflow for B&W conversion. I originally tried to put this post into a conventional text and image format, but gave up shortly after I realized it would be impossible. Instead, have a video! I don’t claim to be any good at video production (forays into this are are another topic for another day), but I think this should give you a good idea of how it all comes together. Excuse the lousy sound, that bit I still haven’t quite gotten figured out yet. I suppose I need some collar mics or something – the equipment buying never ends…

Anyway, enjoy the video. MT



Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!

Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and join the reader Flickr group!


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

Black and white conversion options

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Water drops. Nikon D3100, 60/2.8 G.

I’ve gotten a lot of emails after the Leica X2 and M-Monochrom reviews asking about B&W conversion and processing; I guess the M-Monochrom announcement had a knock on effect on the way people started seeing things. It doesn’t make color cameras redundant for B&W work, though.

Let’s start by demystifying two things.

1. Certain cameras have certain particular B&W characteristics. True, but only if you use JPEG. If you are shooting RAW, they provide different starting points – this is from a tonal response point of view – but ultimately you can get a consistent look regardless of the camera. I know, because I do this all the time.

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Singapore. Fuji X100

2. There are benefits to a monochrome-only camera. True. The Bayer filter and subsequent conversion is an interpolation of neighboring pixel image data to extract color information; luminance information is lifted from the photosite. Any sort of interpolation will reduce tonal accuracy and increase noise, because the luminance value you’ve got is now an approximation instead of a true value. However, it’s fairly easy to see that whilst there are benefits to shooting monochrome-only, you can actually convert a color RAW file into a monochrome one, and lower the perceived amount of noise – though not to as low a level as a monochrome-only camera. If you have a poor interpolation method, then the luminance values can be affected too – once again, increasing the perception of pixel-level image noise in a color image. Bottom line: yes, lower noise, and yes, better detail.

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Trees. Leica M9-P, 21/3.4 ASPH.

Also one of the images available in my print offer.

However, what you lose from a monochrome-camera is the ability to do control the relative luminance level of individual color channels. Why is this important? Suppose your color scene has a relatively small range of background tonal values, but your subject is a very different color. Its luminance may be the same as the background, but it stands out because of the difference in color. As we concluded in a previous article, this kind of image is a very bad candidate for B&W conversion off the bat, because you’d land up with something very flat-looking. (Real life translation: running out and buying an M-Monochrom isn’t going to solve your B&W conversion woes, but it will give you an interesting starting base – especially when it comes to noise and dynamic range. Those of you who don’t mind doing a bit of work, hold on to your normal cameras. And in fact, these techniques apply to the M-Monochrom too.)

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Noryn Aziz in the spotlight. Nikon D700, 24-70/2.8

Actually, if you’re prepared to do some work, this not necessarily the case. It’s still possible to separate the subject from the background on the basis of luminance only; you just need to work a bit harder. You’ve even got a few options here. Park that thought for a moment, we have to introduce the basics of B&W conversion first.

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Shadows. Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1

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A sample image for the purposes of demonstration for this article. This is the original file, converted from RAW, with all of the sliders set to zero. Olympus OM-D, 45/1.8.

The simplest method is to desaturate. All this does is throw out color information, and leave luminance information only. You are then free to do whatever you wish to complete processing of the file. After much investigation and experimentation, this is actually the method I use, coupled with another trick or two. Desaturation can be done in ACR (saturation slider, first tab) or in Photoshop (Hue/Saturation tool, then desaturate the master)

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Straight desaturation. Note overall lack of contrast.

Slightly more complicated is the gradient map. You can use the standard linear black to white transition (press D in photoshop first, then add a new gradient map adjustment layer) – which gives very similar, but not quite the same, results as desaturation. Gradient maps with a straight gradient tend to be a bit more contrasty than desaturation. If you want to experiment a bit, it’s actually possible to put in intermediate control points into the gradient and bias it towards a high key (mostly white, black fades out faster) or low key (black stays for longer) look. What actually works here will depend on your image, however, so be prepared to do some fiddling. The good news is that if you use a new adjustment layer, the gradient is easily modifiable without having to redo your entire conversion.

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Gradient map, linear gradient. Note increased contrast over the straight desaturation.

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Gradient map, low key gradient (mostly black)

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Gradient map, high key gradient (mostly white)

Finally, we’ve got the channel mixer. Best used on the RAW file in ACR, this lets you decide how much of each individual color channel goes into making the final image. Note that the tool only uses the luminance components of each channel, and it’s additive; this means that color (and perceptual color) information is discarded. To make things even more complicated, there’s a separate B&W conversion adjustment layer in Photoshop itself that effectively does the same thing as the ACR conversion, but it only has six channels for you to play with instead of the eight in ACR.

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Channel mixer via ACR, decreased reds; note how the subject (in this case, predominantly in the yellow channel) stands out more from the background.

Remember the conundrum of how to isolate a different colored, but similarly luminous, subject from the background from earlier? The solution to this is the channel mixer. You can increase the luminance of the primary color of your subject, and decrease that of the predominant background color; the converse also works. The problem comes when you’ve got a mixture of colors in both subject and background, and some of those are common colors. (Don’t get carried away though: remember that some images just don’t work in black and white).

This isn’t, the entire toolkit, of course. You’ll find that after this kind of conversion, things look rather flat. That’s because a lot of how the human eye perceives contrast and separation is dependent on differences in hue; obviously we have removed that, so we have to artificially put it back in again. Two of Photoshop’s tools will be your best friends here: the dodge and burn brush, and the curves tool. Understand how both of these things work, what the dos and don’ts are, and you can work magic with any B&W conversion. A tablet is also extremely helpful for these things, as it gives you precision control and feathering over your brush application. It lets you avoid hard edges, odd abrupt transitions, and permits highly precise editing.

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Desaturation with grad blue filter layer in multiply mode (higher density at the bottom of the frame) to darken the bottom red sign

At this point, it’s probably worth talking about plugins and filters. The former are either a set of Photoshop actions, or a separate program, that controls the conversion – specifically the luminance translation of each colour channel into a luminance value – and the tonal map of the final file. Whilst they are extremely popular and used by many ‘internet street photographers’ either to save time or because they are unable to get their desired results from a nuts and bolts conversion, I personally avoid them because they do not give you enough fine control, and even worse, everybody’s images that were run through that filter look the same. There is no personality or skill in that.

Photography is arguably art and very much down to personal taste. If you are 100% happy with the way those results look, great; I’m jealous of the amount of time you’ve saved in your workflow. However, claiming this is art is disingenuous; it’s like finding out Ansel Adams shot BW400CN (a B&W film designed to be run through a C41 color processing machine) and developed it at the local pharmacy – instead of Tri-X or Plus-X, controlling his development time and chemical composition, and then cutting precision masks to dodge and burn portions of his subjects.

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That ‘arty’ high contrast, high grain look. It’s actually what heavily pushed Tri-X used to look like, but how many people actually know that firsthand?

There’s a second type of filer that’s useful, and in either form, it performs a similar function to the channel mixer – it either admits or cuts out light that’s of a certain range of wavelengths. The most common example of this is a physical red filter that goes over the end of your lens; the effect is dark skies, because very little of the blue spectrum passes through the red filter and onto the recording medium. It works with digital too, but you have to remember to adjust exposure accordingly, and obviously not use it in color mode. You can also replicate this effect digitally. Add in a new layer, make it one color, and then select the appropriate blending mode; then only do your B&W conversion. There are interesting results obtainable through this method.

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Final image, desaturation + curves + selective dodge and burn + second round of curves + slight palladium tone layer

If you pull back the B&W conversion layer slightly – assuming you didn’t directly apply the conversion to the image – then it’s also possible to use a color layer to create a toning effect; sepia or platinum is probably the most common. You can even use a graduated fill layer to provide a variable effect; this is especially useful for increasing the density of skies, for instance.

Personally, I prefer to shoot color and then convert to B&W; not because I can’t decide upfront how a scene should be presented, but because there’s a lot of flexibility in how I want to handle the conversion later to highlight certain aspects of my subject, or achieve certain tonal looks.

I’ll go into detail on my personal B&W workflow with an end to end example in a future article. MT

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