On-assignment photoessay: Underground again

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Part I, Central Wanchai Bypass

I found myself back in the tunnels under Hong Kong again a couple of months ago. I’d previously visited both locations in a much less complete state – the Central Wanchai Bypass was a trench with a lot of bracing holding the seawall at bay, and Whampoa MTR station was a bare tunnel with no platform and no liners – just a large cavern. The former is now a neatly lined tunnel and roadway awaiting the final finishing touches for ventilation, M&E ducting and lighting; most of this portion of the contract has been or is about to be handed over to the next contract to be finished. The station is now in pretty much recognisable form – even the information counters and ticket kiosks are in, though without their final cladding and not fully cleaned up. At this point you could certainly imagine rush hour passing through, though – even if the work dust everywhere gives things a slightly post-apocalyptic feel. From an execution/ equipment standpoint, I think this assignment was tougher than my first documentary assignment with the H system – Thaipusam 2016 – mainly because the brief was tighter, light levels much lower in some places, and frequently the subjects more conscious of being photographed. For some odd reason, it was much easier to photograph religious festival participants…

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I actually found the two biggest challenges underground to be light, and weight. There frequently wasn’t enough contrast/light for a solid AF lock, though this was later pinned down to my use of parallax-correcting True Focus under those situations: when the light gets low, just revert to normal AF-S and things are fine. Medium format doesn’t track moving subjects very well, though. I also struggled a little with lack of light and sat frequently at the 6400 limit, or had to push afterwards – this mainly because the environment was so dusty that I couldn’t change lenses without risking the cameras, restricting me to the 35-90mm zoom (f4-5.6) and the 150mm (f3.2) lenses. I have nobody to blame but myself for the weight, though: I took plenty of contingency gear just in case because this was my first formal assignment under these conditions with the Hasselblads, and in hindsight should just have stuck with those two bodies/ two lenses and a tripod – the rest of the stuff was never used because of the aforementioned dust levels. Still: I’m quite pleased with the way these images turned out. There’s a very graduated, controlled feel to them that I’ve not seen in smaller formats, probably because dynamic range was preserved very well even into the higher sensitivity regimes. MT

Images reproduced with kind permission from Chun Wo Development Holdings.

These images were shot with a Hasselblad H6D-50c, H5D-50c, 24, 35-90 and 150mm lenses, and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Part II, from Whampoa MTR station extension

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


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


  1. Wow, really great photos, I noticed most of them with the workers’ backs. I assume they didn’t want to show. right? I shoot a lot of people, yet I feel so much shy of publishing them, I feel like it’s not my right,, 😦
    P.s. Am new in the field 🙂

  2. Great photos Ming. I actually live in Whampoa and I’m looking forward to the station opening next month. The construction work has been going on for about 5 years now but, at street level, there’s not much to see. Your photos have certainly been enlightening; I’ll be showing them to the wife first thing tomorrow morning.

    • Thanks. Hopefully it should make getting around easier for the locals! Huge amount of work going on below street level; no surprise it took that long…

  3. As I scrolled through these images the thought arose and grew stronger that civil engineering is one of the few legitimate and authentic fields of human endeavor. A civil engineer gets to design and build such monumental and supremely useful structures as you have pictured. Then it occurred to me that I would not have had those thoughts were it not for the artist who rendered the work of the engineers so evocatively.

  4. My monitor shows your B/W photos with bluish tint. Is it on purpose or something wrong with my display? I guess it takes a lot of blue light to make humans skin look like that.

  5. I love the urbex feel of the series….

  6. I like this set but not as much as the previous underground set. Perhaps it was the lighting and dust of this set, but it makes me wonder if you might have gotten a lot more keepers had you used your D810 and some 1.4/1.8 primes? The slow glass you used was certainly a hindrance to keeping your ISO low and shutter speed high. Thanks.

  7. As someone who spends lots of time wandering the perimeters of construction sites, it’s great to see some details from within—really enjoyed the backlit worker in a harness (second from top) and the ghostly escalators.

  8. Nice series. Tough to keep them still or the speed high enough and still get a great image.

  9. kholood Azz says:

    The ones with shadowy figures are epic!

  10. Richard Majchrzak says:

    great stuff, Ming, again : as monumental as the work you take the shots of. more encore…..thanks

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