Saturday, 20 December 2008

Ye Heung and Si Taup

R0010319 (Medium)(Classical Mailboxes: These tin mailboxes were characteristic of the 1970s when the general domestic buildings in Hong Kong did not have a place for mailboxes.  I took this shot on the ground floor of a tenement building)

ye heung si taup Some weeks ago, I published a post about the tenement buildings in Hong Kong. Most of these old buildings remain in Mongkok, Yaumatei and Shumshuipo on the Kowloon side, with some declared as monuments in Wanchai and Sheung Wan on the Hong Kong Island. Let’s get down (or up?) to the nitty-gritty of these buildings.


In most cases, these R0010634 (Medium)tenement buildings are closely packed together from  wall to wall, making it possible for residential units to have front and back windows only. Most of them are still poorly managed. There is no proper place even for mailboxes. The communal electrical and TV cables are lined casually in the common areas as you see in the photos below.                          (Letters are frequently stolen)

A large number of them are of three to four stories while those built in the 1960s have as many stories as eight and, for later ones, higher. But, sorry, you’ve got to walk up the stairs for no lifts are provided, which is, well, the second most appalling fact. What topping the list of appalling facts is: there was no flashing toilet in tenement buildings at first!

This is going to be filthy, R0010631 (Medium)mark you: The back section on each floor of a tenement building was used to be a communal kitchen next to which there was a “toilet” where tenants got rid of their waste in a round, wooden “Si Taup” (literally, faeces tower) of 2.5 feet in height. The “Si Taup” has a top opening of 2 feet in diameter. It is covered with a lid when not in use.

(Fire hazard is severe)

R0010628 (Medium)The lack of flashing toilet gave rise to the profession of what was known   as “Ye Heung Fu” (literally, nightly fragrant ladies) who cleared away the human wastes in containers in which the tenants empty the Si Taup at mid-night. The colloquial term “Ye Heung” is still used as a euphemism for human faeces, and "Si Taup" is playful equivalence of "toilet".                                                 (From a higher angle)

Friday, 19 December 2008

Photography: What Counts?

(Featuring photos and comments on DP1 by SW Kuo from Taiwan)
A previous discussion on compacts for portraits triggered off the a photographer to say that street shots photograph was for wimps, quoting Norman Parkinson's 'Wimps make bad photographers'. This thought-provoking comment made me write something to share my views on street photography, which is in the process.

Until then, I wish to illustrate an important question first. Let me start by showing you some portrait works of SW Kuo from Taiwan. He wrote to me that there were much left to be desired in the following shots but was brave enough to let me publish them. Typical oriental politeness. My salute to Kuo. He uses a DP1. Despite its CCD of a larger size, I consider the DP1 compact enough to be relevant to the contents of this site. (A portrait taken with Minolta 7000i in my greener days)
old portrait (Medium) If we compare Kuo's works with Ye Li's (here and here), also a DP1 user, there is an obvious conclusion which should not be required making: What matters is not the camera or the genre or some bigwig's beliefs but SKILL! Street shots need skill too, just that different genres requires slightly different skills. Maybe some of us really need some excellent street shots to change our (mis-)conception about street shots. We should carry on this discussion on street shots when my writing is done. Some tips on street shots will also be offered.
Now, Kuo's portraits and his comments on the DP1. (Note: if you visit Kuo's blog, you will notice that his photographic skill is growing. Congrats, Kuo)

sw kuo dp1By SW Kuo: Sigma DP1 is my shooting tool on top of my Canons. I was in touch with Sigma when I first used its lenses which I think give a big bang for the bucks. However, this Sigma DP1 is expensive in comparison with other compacts, with a sluggish speed in focusing, data writing and reading, and a slower than desirable lens. So, what on earth was I thinking when I started craving for it?

2718305811_bf1c549140_o (Small) (This shot was done at a portrait shootout organised by a local photography club. I like the exposure of this image. The model was in a pinkish long dress. The exposure does justice to the pinkish colour so that it does not become whitish. The model has a cute face in a sexy posture)

As a matter fact, I was curious about the Sigma SD14, especially for its Foveon X3 CCD. After the enlightenment of the Sigma DP1, I can safely say that Sigma boasts the unbeatable CCD with its Foveon X3 in the market at present. Of course, prejudice is personal. No understanding will be complete without using the camera itself.

2954500553_97551867bf_o (Medium) (This shot was also done when I joined a portrait shootout of another club. The shot was made possible with the 28mm of the DP1. The photo is rightly exposed to show a rich colour texture)

I have been using DP1 for almost six months. I am amazed by the quality colours, details, texture it gives to the images with a APS-size CCD. However, ergonomics-wise, there are improvements to be made. Another point to note is that the RAW files give the best results only with the proprietary Sigma Photo Pro. DP1 is one of the best shooting tools though. I hope that Sigma will be able to improve the ergonomics of heir to DP1 to make it more enjoyable for photographers.

If you're interested, Kuo's flickr page is here.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Temple Street Night Market

The following photos were done during the shootout with Cristi, a Ricoh camera user from London. He lent me his GRD which was set to the B&W setting at ISO 1600. As a GX200 user, I found myself fumbling for the zoom button without success. As I shoot primarily in colours and seldom shoot in such a low night situation, I was quite unaccustomed to the setting until almost ten shutter clicks or so. After the shootout, I agreed with Cristi that the ISO1600 was exceptionally useful in such a situation for B&W; he simply skipped ISO 400/800. The noise gives a wonderful film-like grainy look to the images which I like a lot.

R0012147 (Medium) (Can't Get My Eyes off You: The sungalsses kiosk owner is busy counting the money)

R0012144 (Medium) (Look Up, Look Down: A tourist buying some hair accessories)

A brief note about the Temple Street night market: it starts from Yaumatei to Jordon. If you walk leisurely without stopping, it will take you some 30 minutes to finish it. The lesser known facts about the market are the porn shops alongside the walkway and the Nepalese / Thai shops selling exotic Asian items. Look for them not on the main market aisle but along the walkway on both sides of the street. If you try to take photos involving the porn shops, please be forewarned that they are mostly operated by gangsters.

R0012150 (Medium) (Illegal Parking: A passer-by sat on the carts to soothe his sore legs)

R0012148 (Medium) (Sigh, Wrong Way: Some Putonghua speaking tourists was heard discussing which the right way was)

The Sound of No Silence

R0012151 (Medium) (Stark Contrast: Some rich people's expensive fancy car was parked at the roadside where the poor was having cheap food for dinner. It was taken at the end of the Temple Street night market with a GRD lent to me by Crisitian at out meetup on Monday night)

It was interesting to meet someone living thousands of miles away who shared your hobby. Cristi from London, his friend and I met on Monday. After dinner and then desserts at a popular sweetshop, we had a shootout at the nearby interesting Temple Street night market. He will probably post some of the shots on his blog.

Focusing Sound

Cristi and I talked about some issues of Ricoh's cameras. The one question that interested me the most was how he managed in his street shots to have the subjects looked right into the camera. I asked if it was because he asked for permission to shoot and people posed for him. He said no. The secret was, he revealed, in a "flaw" of the Ricoh cameras. When he showed me how the GRD gave out the mechanical sound during focusing, I knew why: the subjects looked right into the camera because they were curious of the sound by which time Cristi simply pressed the shutter.

It is fairly inconvenient for street shot photographers to ask just any people on the street to look into their cameras; and if they do ask, they seldom succeed. Cristi's idea actually works for him. That made me think of two suggestions for the photographers and Ricoh's future cameras, respectively.

R0012146 (Medium) (Scantily Clad: An embarrassed tourist walking past the laces kiosk was caught looking into the GRD. It was because of luck, mark you, not the focusing sound)


As I am a GX200 user, let me put forward this suggestion with reference to GX200. I think other recent Ricoh cameras have a similar menu system; so the suggestion should be applicable to them too.

My suggestions are simple but useful: For the photographers, in case the focusing sound is desirable to attract your subject's gaze in a street shot or a portrait shot for especially a baby, turn on the focusing sound in the menu.

For Ricoh, in your future cameras' menu, separate the on/off control for focusing sound from that for the rest of the adjustable sounds. You may ask: The on/off control for the focusing sound is already available. Why separate it?

The menu system in GX200 has similar independent on/off control for "Level Sound" and "Shutter Sound", while the rest must be turned on or off as a single option. Likewise, I think the "Focusing Sound" should be able to be turned on or off indepentently cos I wonder if there are much photographers who wish to activate other sounds at the same time. It is a simple thing and no harm to add this function in Ricoh's future cameras.

So, if the mechanical focusing sound can help attract the subjects' gaze at the camera on some ocassions, it will do good to tweak the menu as suggested above to allow activation of just the digitally generated focusing sound.

As an aside, GRD's mechanical focusing sound is not satisfactory IMO. GX200's is not loud at all but it is still desirable to make the mechanical sound lower.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Update: Price Cut Not to Herald GRDIII?

This is an update on a previous observation on Ricoh's price cut in Hong Kong. Cristi, a Ricoh user from Britain, met people of HK's distributor (Laikok) for Ricoh cameras recently. The Laikok people commented that their recent price cut for some of Ricoh's cameras, including the deepest cut of 30% for GRDII's, was rather a strategic move for economic consideration than a prelude to the coming of any new Ricoh's model. A new release would be in 2-3 months but rather later. There is certainly credence in the comment. But let's reason further for a fuller picture: 1) Around nine months before the release of GX200, HSBC offered its local VISA card customers an approximately 30% off the price of GX100. 2) So, shedding a reasonable amount of the old stock requires a period of, say, nine months. 3) The price cut this time for GRDII is the deepest; coincidentally, for 30% (making it at the same price level of a GX200!). 4) Some informed GRDII users commented that the release cycle of GRD model was two years. GRDII was released in October 2007. The cycle for GRDII will come to an end in ten months. 5) Would strategic move be based more heavily on strategic market factors, less on routines?
6) The niche market of serious compact grows crowder, and more competitive with the emergence of similar cameras of other brands.
7) If there is a need to re-conquer the niche market, the tactics is either cutting the price or working out a more advanced model to stay on top.
The conclusion is yours to make. Whatever the conclusion is, price cuts are always welcomed. And keep taking more photos, do less guessing. Note: The above guess is not materially founded in any way.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Playful Reflections

R0011570 (Medium) (Down Under: The puddles look "bloody" like the iconographic shapes of Australia and the New Zealand. This photo was taken on my way to work. I didn't figure out why at the time I found the shapes very familiar. When I downloaded the files to the computer and viewed it on the screen, Eureka!)

R0010548 (Medium)(Stealthy Man: Tell me, is the man with the backpack waiting to cross the road real?)

R0010839 (Medium)(Butterfly's Dream: Zhuang Zi, an ancient Chinese philosopher, wrote a famous piece speaking of his wonder of whether it was he who just dreamed of a butterfly in a dream or it was he who had actually been in the dream of the butterfly.)