From a stuffed canvas bag Dustin Shum Wan-yat pulls out his self-published photo book titled Themeless Parks. It is one of his most prized possessions right now, even though he only gets a royalty of HK$10 per copy sold. Hong Kong is not an ideal market for coffee table books, the photographer says. 'It's much more expensive to publish a photo book. To ensure a satisfying printing quality, you have to use the best paper and inks. 'There are many people who love taking photos in Hong Kong. But not many really understand photography and are open to appreciate other people's works.' So it was gut rather than commercial instinct that made Shum quit his full-time job to pursue his dream of becoming a 'visual writer'. Having been a photographer with the South China Morning Post for almost a decade, the 37-year-old Hong Kong Polytechnic University graduate called it a day six months ago to go freelance. 'The best part about being a freelancer is that I can have full control of the creative process, from scratch to final production,' he says. Having been a photojournalist has stood Shum in good stead when it comes to ideas for subjects. Themeless Parks, published this month, is the result of frequent visits to the mainland while working for the Post. There, he noted, leisure parks are very different from those in Hong Kong, such as Victoria Park. 'Some parks in southern China have very random designs. You can even find karaoke bars or pool tables inside them,' Shum says. Over the past three years, he has taken more than 3,000 photographs of parks throughout the mainland, capturing images of everything from recreational rides and relaxed visitors to leisure facilities long lacking proper maintenance. Some of these images were on display in an exhibition he staged last year. 'Some people may think parks a strange or boring subject, but I feel that this is the way for me to visualise my observations,' Shum says. One such observation is the growing number of recreation areas that have sprouted in recent years, reflecting rapid economic change across the border. Owing to the booming economy, Shum says, factories and commercial buildings have begun to take up more and more public leisure space and, as a result, the local authorities have to build parks to compensate. The images Shum captured are also often humorous although he says that his intention is not to 'mock or ridicule' his subjects but instead to adopt a critical approach towards people and situations. What inspired last year's exhibition and, subsequently, his photo book were the chaotic scenes outside Hong Kong Disneyland during Lunar New Year in 2006, when angry visitors demanded to be let into the park, which had shut its gates due to overcapacity. Images of people furiously rocking the gates inspired Shum to ponder the question: 'Are all amusement parks really that amusing?' Shum, who majored in photographic design, counts documentary photographer Martin Parr as one of the major influences on his imagery of consumerism and the culture of leisure. His next project is to shoot supermarkets on the mainland. 'I usually go to the mainland at weekends, when the supermarkets often have promotional campaigns. There are many things going on that interest me,' he says. Shum prefers to shoot pictures in colour. 'Some top photographers may prefer a black-and-white style. But I gave up on it more than 10 years ago. Black and white involves too much of a photographer's own emotions. It's more challenging to shoot in colour because people are familiar with things in colour and the photographer has to find a way to impress them. 'My sensitivity to colours is growing. I find I am attracted to pale green shades as well as the sharp green of glass windows,' Shum says, pointing out the colours of buildings in Kwun Tong. Shum, who has won awards from various local press associations, received backing from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council to stage his debut exhibition Alias: Xianggang at the Fringe Club in 2003. Having been a photographer for more than 10 years, Shum sees taking pictures as the best way to express his ideas. 'I wouldn't have taken up photography if I were a good writer,' he says before quoting legendary US photographer Lewis Wickes Hine: 'If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera.'