On assignment photoessay: Chinese University of Hong Kong Library

_8053805 copy

One from the archives for today – I thought I’d posted this a long time ago, but turns out it sat in the ‘draft posts’ folder. Oops!

Inspiration begets inspiration. At least that’s my own theory of creativity. If you’re in photographically inspiring surroundings, it’s unquestionably easier to make an interesting image than otherwise – or at very least feel that you’ve got far more possibilities to hand. There are some assignments where one must fall back onto professionalism and the motto of the US postal service* to get the job done, but then we also have those where you couldn’t stop shooting even if it were forbidden. This assignment was most certainly the latter, and appropriate given the subject was the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s new library space – which in itself is presumably meant to be inspiring to its students.

*Come rain, come shine, dogs be damned etc.

_8053650 copy

I found CUHK’s library to be one of the most interesting spaces I’ve had the pleasure of shooting, because it manages to be light, airy and open, yet intimate and private to encourage concentration. There’s a lot of natural light, good air circulation through high ceilings and full-volume atria, but at the same time, it’s not so bright that you have issues with patches of sunlight causing eyestrain. The spaces themselves are varied enough to accommodate different working styles and group sizes, and there’s just a lot of it to go around – the images look mostly empty (it was early in the morning), but there has to have been at least a hundred students distributed throughout the place. It’s bright and cheery without being saccharine – the skylight with pool on top of it to allow natural light into the underground space is brilliant (final image) – yet the place is still somehow studious and encouraging of the quiet atmosphere we associate with libraries. It was a far cry from the 700-year old library at my university, but no less ideally suited to the task. As I packed up the camera, I almost wished I was a student again – almost. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D800E and the 24 and 45mm PCE lenses.

_8053807-9 copy

_8053680 copy

_8053802 copy

_8053818-20 copy

_8053787 copy

_8053796 copy

_8053785 copy

_8053781-3 copy

_8053778 copy

_8053742 copy

_8053730 copy

_8053658 copy

_8053636 copy

_8053626 copy

_8053052 copy


Masterclass Singapore (July 2016) and Prague (September 2016) are open for booking. Please click the links for details and to book.


Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography. You can also support the site by purchasing from B&H and Amazon – thanks!

We are also on Facebook and there is a curated reader Flickr pool.

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


  1. Jorge Balarin. says:

    Beautiful photos !

  2. Wonderful pictures. But where are the readers?

    • A very good question, and I think if anything more of a sign of the times regarding education and propagation of knowledge via the internet than anything else; this was shot in the middle of term, too.

  3. richiemccaw says:

    Really liked this series a lot. Thanks for sharing this piece.

  4. Brett Patching says:

    Exquisite photographs Ming!

  5. rjllane says:

    I note that the architects have chosen to provide natural light for many of the spaces with large windows and skylights (?).

    This made me think about achieving good white balance (temperature) when taking photographs indoors. You always achieve immaculate white balance. This is an aspect that I struggle with and generally fail according to my expectations and standards. I am photographing with a Hasselblad 500C/M and CFV-50c back (as we have discussed elsewhere). Do you have any quick tips for how you would approach white balance with this equipment? I would be using the existing lighting, as I presume that you did in the photographs in this essay.

    The other aspect of the images in this essay that I shake my head about when I compare my own attempts with yours – you have achieved such marvelously even lighting in a variety of settings, even when there are widely different light levels even in a single image. Astounding work, Ming.

    • Thanks. I’d suggest using a grey card for starters, but don’t be afraid to desaturate or shift single channels (yellow for tungsten WB, blue for outdoor/shade) back to the middle.

      • rjllane says:

        Hi there, Ming.

        Many thanks for these tips – you are wonderfully generous (with the blog itself and with the conscientious way that you follow-up with your readers).

        I shall do some some research, and follow-up with some practice … and then maybe I shall do better than before.

        🙂 … MomentsForZen (Richard)

    • ioojimooi says:

      “you have achieved such marvelously even lighting in a variety of settings” – yes, i am also wondering how you can make both indoor/outdoor lightings so balanced, such as the image “_8053626 copy”, very often when i shoot that kind of image, if i have the indoor exposure “ok”, the outdoor would be over-exposed. Ming would you mind to share some hints how you deal with situation like this ?

  6. Larry Cloetta says:

    Beautiful space, nicely captured. But, I have to ask…. 700 year old library at your university!!? That pretty much coincides with the invention of the printing press. Where’s that photo essay?

    • Ah, I wasn’t photographing at that point in time, and it’s not exactly easy to get back to now. The printing press? Bah! We had a section for illuminated manuscripts. 😛

  7. Bill Walter says:

    What a great place to shoot! In your “Structure” set, you discussed lines. Well, there are an abundance of lines here! For me, this is one of the most enjoyable sets you’ve ever produced. Then again, I’m a sucker for modern architecture and interesting lighting.

  8. You’ve really captured the beauty of this place.

  9. Creativity if you had to define it is the marriage of different technologies. For example, war machine guns are the mix of pistols and sewing machines. With their invention one soldier could shoot the same as 100 soldiers before. Sheet metal is the mix of steel ingots and pasta. Antobiotics are the mix of poison bark from trees poisoning bacteria. Digital cameras the mix of silicone wafers receiving light with lenses and electronics. Cellular phones the mixture of walkie talkies with long distance radio emitters. MRIs for medicine the mixture of large magnets with radio fields resonating into a picture. Thus the library in order to motivate creativity should have contrast elements, and I see a lot of white, airy, sterile places. It needs a few hairy walls with hair, some blacks, some bold colors, textures besides sterile hard plastics, some of the charm of the 700 year old library in the middle.

  10. Wooww,, that’s pretty cool library!!! Totally love those photograph,, AWESOME.

    Wanna go there..

  11. Stunning and impeccable.

%d bloggers like this: