After having uploaded my Hong Kong set to Flickr and SmugMug, when looking at the photos and getting some of the feedback from viewers on the web I think many of the more intriguing photos are the ones I took while walking the streets of the city.  So I wanted to write a little bit about my experience in Hong Kong doing street photography; where to go, what to take pictures of, etc.

Needless to say Hong Kong is a big city, and there are countless places to go. We only had a few days and wanted to see some of the sites that are more well known, so we picked our targets carefully.  Hong Kong itself is split into two areas; the northern part of the main city is a peninsula known as Kowloon, and the southern part of the city, which is actually it’s own island, is Hong Kong Island and historically was the “original” city.

I’ll focus on three basic places that we had the time to see.  We went to Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, both on Nathan Road, and also Stanley Street and the surrounding markets.

The first area, Tsim Sha Tsui, is on the Kowloon Peninsula just north of the water.  From here you can get great photos of the harbour front and  Avenue of the Stars.  The people are great, the area is touristy and I never felt any concern carrying my camera around.  I made sure to get some pictures of my favorite stars on the walkway, images of people doing Kung Fu around the Bruce Lee statue (including me).  In the evening the area was hopping, and since we lived nearby it was easy to get some photos of the city bustling activity.

I actually took my tripod out around our hostel near Tsim Sha Tsui station; the signs for the shops and stores were all lit up and the place was pretty busy.  I found myself continuing to focus on signs and the chinese writing; it’s so foreign to me and I found it helped me to convey the fact I was in another part of the world.  These pics are more effective at night because you can capture the movement of the crowd but also get the spillover light from the flashing signs.

The next day we ended up across the harbor on Hong Kong island, where we visited Stanley Street and the markets there.  We took the underground and some buses while on the Hong Kong side of the city, and this is another opportunity to capture some pictures of your experience.  What does the subway or underground look like?  What are the names of the station stops?  We captured a great photo of four girls while taking one of the famous Hong Kong trolleys through the city; while the image isn’t technically good it’s a nice memory for me of the trolley ride.

Once in the market area, there’s a series of escalators outdoors that take you through an excellent area of busy streets with little traffic.  Some of the escalators are elevated over the shopping streets, so I was able to take pictures from above looking down which allowed me to capture not just the street itself but also the surrounding environment and some of the more beat up side walls and neglected parts of the buildings, which gives the viewer a sense of the grungier side of the city.  I also ran a high pass filter on this particular photo to get the detailed, gritty look you see here.

And while out and about it’s always important to stay hydrated!  So Adriana and I stopped off for a beer.  After all it’s hard work carrying a big camera, tripod and a bunch of lenses!

Finally we moved back to the Kowloon Peninsula, this time further north up Nathan Road to an area known as Mong Kok.  We went there for lunch at a famous dim sum place called Tim Ho Wan (Michelin starred and CHEAP, definitely check it out!)  However we had to wait 4 hours before getting a seat – yep, four hours.  So it was a good excuse to walk around the area and take some good snaps.

This was market territory, so I wanted to get some pictures of people perusing the goods for sale as well as trying to again capture the overall feeling of activity.  For me this means capturing motion – people moving, people talking on the phone, shop owners selling their goods, and people looking at what’s for sale.  You can see some of those images below and hopefully these will give you some ideas to get some good shots while abroad.  We also spent time walking through some interesting areas; many Asian cities have markets that are dedicated to one particular type of product or service.  While waiting for our dim sum, we found the “Aquarium district” and took some great pictures of people buying aquariums, fish, filters, and everything you could possibly dream of that had anything to do with fish in a home.  Not what I normally see on Oxford Street!

One note on processing, that I hope to cover in another post sometime.  Some of my pictures I use Lightroom and Photoshop (amongst some other digital tools) to enhance clarity and color saturation in the image; this gives it a more vibrant look and the colors are really a part of the picture.  On occasion though I’ll take some of the saturation out of the image; for some of my Hong Kong images this felt very appropriate as it gives the sense of being in a big city.  There’s a bit of pollution, lots of activity and signs that haven’t been cleaned in a while.  Not every color is vibrant and for me I like to get a mix of the two, because while some photographers want to be recognized for their “style” I prefer every photo to be different from the last.

Finally I wanted to spend a moment talking about this last photo, my favorite picture taken in Hong Kong.  This is an HDR image (3 images taken and fused together using Photomatix).  I like this image for numerous reasons.

  • There’s both chaos and order – the buses are in lines so they draw the eye into the picture, yet the activity allows the eye to wander around the image, wondering what everyones up to.
  • There’s a sense of place – the signs above the buses obviously point out that this isn’t NYC.  While it may be difficult to tell this is indeed Hong Kong, it’s definitely Asia
  • There’s a level of zoom compression – this may not be immediately obvious but the picture was taken with a zoom lens from a high vantage point, and that helps to make the signs, buses and people look like they’re “smooshed” together.  If this had been taken with a wide angle lens the scene wouldn’t look as busy as it does here, detracting from the overall effect of a bustling city.
These are just some ideas for you while out and about in Hong Kong.  As I said above the city is large and there are many, many places to take pictures that may be far more unique than the limited area I was to able to cover in a few days.  While capturing the cultural differences and unique memories of your experience with your camera is important, don’t forget to have fun and soak in the environment for yourself!