Photoessay: Carflections, Lisbon

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This post is probably going to read as odd to a lot of people, and I apologise in advance if any local Lisboans are offended by it.

During the week or so I spent in Lisbon, one thing kept nagging at me: what is the ‘essence’ of the city? After a lot of walking around, I came to three observations: firstly, there were a lot of cars – especially for an ‘old’ city with narrower streets and lots of elevation changes. Secondly, ornate architecture, some in good repair, some not. Finally, a surprising absence of people – I’d expected more inhabitants, but as it turns out, population contraction and economics issues have meant that there is far more real estate available than people to fill it, let alone people to buy it. If Lisbon were viewed from space by another species, I can’t help coming to the conclusion that more than many other cities – except perhaps LA – that the dominant species was the car. And here we have the genesis of this photoessay, which I personally feel was quite representative of Lisbon. Visually, I feel the juxtaposition between classical/hard/strong/colorful buildings and more organic, curved and ‘cleaner’ cars is quite interesting; there’s a sort of flow between them that is suggestive of water and progression of time. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c with various lenses, a Leica Q 116 and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III

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Masterclass Prague (September 2016) is open for booking.


Ultraprints from this series are available on request here


More info on Hasselblad cameras and lenses can be found here.


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


  1. Amazing work, thank you.

  2. This is an inspirational project!

  3. Jorge Balarin says:

    I like the last one very much.

  4. Wow, what a set, this is my favorite photoessay in a long time! Abstract and form coming together beautifully! Do you keep a towel with you, so many times when I try these reflective photos, there’s so much dust that mess up the image. 🙂

    • Thanks Daniel. I do often have a towel, but that’s more to keep the camera dry in case it rains, (or in the tropics, the photographer if it doesn’t 🙂 )

  5. Interesting enough, you just forgot the most important thing in Lisbon, and, of course the one that allows to take that great photos… the sun!

  6. First of all, I really like this set. No 16 almost seems like a reality is peeling away. I also noticed there are some repeated photos. No 8,9,10 sequence is repeated in photos no 12,13,14.
    Your insights about the city are remarkably precise for such a short stay. Both cities, Porto and Lisbon, have in last 30 years lost population to the neighbouring councils. Lisbon and Porto metropolitan areas grew out two different migration flows countryside to the city and center to the outskirts. The latter one was caused by many reasons, being the most important: a communist led rent law that froze the value of the rents for a long period, the pressure of services that grew and occupied most of the housing in the old centers, the narrow streets and lack of parking space both in buildings and streets, the high price of properties in the centers via-à-vis new developments in the outskirts. In the 70’s right after the revolution there was a huge lack of housing. Today, Portugal has a ratio of 1,6 houses per family. It wasn’t the crisis that caused this, the crisis is a result of this, already in 2001 the said ratio was already 1,4.

    • Thanks – sorry, there shouldn’t be repeats; I’ll have to double check the code. Sometimes making a small edit on the mobile app can do weird things when you hit upload.

      Observation is our primary job as photographers: you can’t capture what you can’t see, and you can capture anything different or beyond the obvious/literal if you’re not noticing it. Interesting that the real estate situation seems to be the opposite of every other part of the world – is the population growing or shrinking? That might also have some impact…

      • The main difference is only the abundance of housing. The rest of the story is quite similar to any other european or american city: urban sprawl, concentration of offices in city centres, etc., it only happened in a shorter period of time. There has been a small population growth from 1975 to 2013. It rose from 9,09 million to 10,43 million, but still housing grew at much stronger rate. The population age piramid on the other hand has capsized much faster than other European countries. The population is already decreasing since 2010.

  7. David Meyers says:

    I guess I’m a little late to the party, but I just wanted to add my admiration for this set. I’m a sucker for reflections and the idea of using cars as a source of them is nifty.

  8. i loved these.

  9. Nice series. To me, those that have a larger area filled by a reflection work best. They guide my eye to the reflection first, presenting the subject like a visual questions that needs to be solved. Those images that tend to provide less space for the reflection seem to guide the viewer to the actual building first, providing the answer before the question, which then makes the reflection less interesting to me. Don’t like the upside down one. I turned it 180 degrees and thought it is strong enough and doesn’t need a trick. Inspiring series. Curious to see more.

    • Thanks – I preferred the inverted one inverted because the building needed to be at the ‘top’ and the dark blue car suggested evening sky quite nicely…

  10. Always love your car reflection shots. I just don’t know how you do it – I’ve yet to take a really decent one, and god knows I’ve tried!

    • Thanks Todd – just pick cleaner cars, and shoot into the sun so the bright thing being reflected is behind you (i.e. reflection puts it in front of you) which pumps contrast.

  11. I am always amazed at what you do with reflections, especially with cars … to me it is one of the your most distinct stylistic signatures.

  12. So often parked cars are the curse of city photography however here you have really turned them to your advantage – great job!

  13. Not so strange a perception. To most car owners, their vehicle is an extension of themselves, an extra outer body, through which they attempt to expresses the inner self, rather like a fashion statement or a life-style. The outer, surrounding world in which the vehicle moves, is reflected in the eyes, (windows) and the surface of the outer shell. “I am what I perceive – I am what I reflect”. We can learn a lot about the population of Lisbon from your images. Sally

  14. richard majchrzak says:

    like these pix, they are funny , emotional (yes) and beautifully executed. …swinging

  15. Roger Wojahn says:

    Incredible images, Ming. You just keep improving!

  16. Hugh Rigley says:

    Lisbon is beautiful no matter how you look at it. Your images are terrific (as always) I always wonder why you are not either a Magnum photographer or shooting assignments for National Geographic.However I must admit I do not Know how that works. I think that if not now – soon. Have you ever thought … I am sure they are looking.


    • Thanks Hugh. Short answer, because Magnum said I should focus on only shooting one thing – and I can’t do that. I turned down a NG assignment a couple of years ago because it would mean three months in the jungle without communication and the death of pretty much every other business and this site. Wasn’t worth writing off that effort or the commercial risk, to be honest.

  17. Brett Patching says:

    Ming, any idea why I’m getting a 404 Page Not Found on Flickr when I click on some of these photos?

  18. Brett Patching says:

    Now that’s cool. A great resource for those of us who add reflections to our design sketches 🙂

  19. Alex Carnes says:

    I salute you for thinking of doing that and the images are very well done. I really like the fourth one, it took me a moment to see you’d turned it upside down! Lisbon is obviously a place where people enjoy polishing their cars…! 😉

  20. Mr. Thein, I’m guessing your favorite time of day to shoot is late afternoon?

    • Depends on the subject, latitude, light…at extreme latitudes in summer you might not get this kind of sun angle til 9pm; in the tropics I may well shoot at noon because the contrast is so high (and makes for some very interesting shadow play).

  21. Very creative take on a fascinating city! I oft en play with car reflections when in a city, but never thought about turning it into a photo essay. Great series!

  22. Amazing images Ming! Perfection… – Eric

  23. Martijn ten Napel says:

    I have a technical question for you: is the difference in the rendering of colors between the Leica images en the Hasselblad images due to a difference in processing (or rather, having a workflow with different files as input), or is this the difference in how camera/lens combinations represent colour?
    I’m not saying one is better than the other, but I just notice a difference.

    • There’s a difference because the Leica has about two stops less dynamic range, that affects color because individual channels may clip faster especially for very intense colors. There’s also a pronounced magenta shift to reds that’s impossible to remove entirely in profiling – the upshot of this is probably what you’re seeing. With ACR’s standard conversion profile for each and all adjustments zeroed out, there’s a very noticeable difference in color out of the box.

  24. Jeff Chester says:

    Images 1-4 are interesting compositions in the way they arrange curved and straight lines; handling sinuous lines as they meander through the rectangular frame is challengiing. Do you compose to the format or crop to fit? Ever consider a multi-format viewfinder?

  25. Some very nice ones.

  26. Michael Demeyer says:

    Nice concept and execution. I especially like the last one.

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