Saturday, 18 April 2009

On the Bright Side

R0014635 (Medium)(Nathan Road of Hong Kong at night.  I checked out the lights again two hours later and they were still on)

Hong Kong is festooned with  neon lights, flashlighs and you-name-it-what lights.  Sometimes, their brightness shining over the street can dupe passers-by into thinking that it was nine o'clock in the morning instead of at night.  If you are new to Hong Kong, this light pollution after dark is very obvious.  It should not be required any explanation that an ever bustling big city like Hong Kong needs lighting at night.  But obviously, we are too much on the bright side.

The low ISO used for this nightshot speaks volumes for the seriousness of the problem.  Surely, any experienced photographer would be amazed to find that even ISO 200 turns out to be sufficient for a very steady nightshot.  Look, the exposure combo says F3.8 and 1/50s, far from the safety zone of F2.8 and 1/20s for this shot with a 24mm focal length.

R0014666 (Medium)(A night shot at around 9 p.m. in Shenzhen near the comparatively busy Dongmen district)

People living here long enough are more lenient towards the issue unless they live near one of the light pollution sources.  A awareness can easily be instilled in them by way of a short stay in, say, Macao or Shenzhen.  Just in case you don’t know, Macao is a 45 minutes boat trip away from Hong Kong and Shenzhen is the Chinese city across the Hong Kong boundary.

Look at the above photo, it was taken at almost the same time at 9:10 p.m. and I need to push the ISO up to 400.  Actually, a higher ISO value should be required if not for the glass panel on which I lean with my GX200.  In fact, I had to drag the shutter speed down to 1/10s to give a faithful reproduction of the luminance of the street as you see below.  The scene is closer to what we call a nightshot than the Nathan Road shot.

R0014663 (Medium)
(Another nightshot through the glass panel.  If you are not conversant with ISO values, simply put, ISO 400 is double in value than ISO 200.  In the film days, ISO 400 films were called journalist films because of their adaptability in a wider lighting situations.  The ISO 200 value is sometimes used when you shoot a photo in the daytime under an overcast sky.  An indoor shot at home required the camera to push the ISO to 200 or above)

The ramification of Hong Kong being too bright at night is that people tend to stay in the street until even later, giving the grist to the rationale for keeping more lights on at night.  This easily turns into a vicious cycle.  Another side effect is that there are fewer real night activities in the street.  A case in point is the fortune telling alley at the Temple Market.  It used to be ghostly dark at night.  Now, go there to check it out and make your own conclusion, especially the junction next to the mahjong parlour with its flickering neon signboard.

R0014678 (Medium)(A standard nightshot should require ISO 1600.  Even with such a high ISO value, the shutter speed had to be dragged down to 1/13s.  This speed is lower than the safety value for this shot with a 28mm focal length.  The man is selling chestnut on his mobile kiosk in the street at Shenzhen)

To those having been living in Hong Kong long enough, the disappeared real night life in the street is very much missed.  A darker street is more romantic too.  Now probably there is only one thing left to be done in the street at night: shopping at shops.  The Hong Kong government is drafting a law to tickle light pollution at night.  Let's wish them every success.

R0014681 (Medium)(A hawker is selling big mandarins filling the two rattan baskets hung on his bike.  I would consider it romantic if you take your parter for a date in this dimly lit street and buy him or her some mandarins from the hawker and enjoy it along a "shopless" sidewalk, chatting to each other)



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With best regards,
Nevin Young

Friday, 17 April 2009

A Week Has Ended

past (Medium) (Taken on a footbridge with my GX200)

This is another weekend. We really don't realise how customarily fast a week can pass, do you?  Hmmm, have you taken any photos of note this week?  Read some literature on photography.  Get a copy of photography magazine maybe.  Skip any camera review for a week.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Prison Break

R0014723 (Small)(Office Prisoners: This photo was taken inside the Juren Tower, or literally Giant Tower, a first-rate office tower and tallest building in Shenzhen.  The reflection reminded me of the bars in a prison cell.  The office workers are walking into the prison)

Office workers can easily tell you that how humdrum an office life is, except probably for those lucky folks in the Google office.  If office workers have to break away from the office prison to regain creativity, photographers have to shed the belief in just the cameras to reposition to the right mindset in photography.

R0014720 (Small) (Looking head-up at the Juren Prison)

The best camera is inside our head which is our thoughts.   But when we see a great photo, the first thought leaping into our mind is usually which camera the photographer used to take the photo.  Seldom do we think of the long years of learning and practices behind the success.

 R0014724 (Small)

Of course, a technically great camera helps photograhers a lot for snatching the decisive moments.  But examples of great photos taken with cheap cameras are aplenty.  It is our thoughts that matter the most.  A photographer should aspire to train himself or herself for not only a flair for photography, but also the flexibility to get the best out of any cameras.

R0014722 (Small)

R0014715 (Small) Photography takes more than a camera.  We all know it but don't really put this into practice.  There are cameras which suit a photographer better, especially in this digital era when the imaging machine and materials are combined.  Some cameras offer images with characteristics to the liking of some photographers for sure.  It is perfectly okay to get in love with a specific camera as long as the photographer focuses on how to use the tool to practice what he has learned.

This is another epiphany of mine on photography at Shenzhen.

(Juren Tower; the Chinese characters
say "Development")


R0014721 (Small)Postsctipt: As good photos do not hinges on cameras and my GX200 is so portable and controllable, I am moving further away from the bulky DSLR.  If I had brought a full-fledged DSLR and tried to shoot this set of pictures in this first-rate office tower, chances were that I would have been stopped.  The stealthness of a serious compacts is a great assest for that matter.

And I hope to post this photo to show the whole scene of the above images.  I just moved half way towards the doors and half kneel on the floor to shoot the pictures.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Perspective for Thought

R0014760 (Small) (Jigsaw Puzzle in Linear Perspective: These two are the unmistakeably modern buildings sitting atop the groovy glass-panelled Shenzhen public library. Like almost any cities in China, Shenzhen has kept changing for the better. I was amazed to see the city's fast-tracked progress everytime I went there. This image represents how I see Shenzhen: It rises from ground zero with a history of different trials, probably represented by respective grids. The grass could represent its agricultural past; the mud its poor past; the pebble stones a smoother period of development; the reflected image on the marble floor it grandeur present)

In the era of digital photography there are some frequently asked questions like "Which camera (brand) do you use to take these cool photos?", "What are your in-camera image settings?" or "Which programme did you use to post process the photos?", etcetera.

These questions are usually asked when the askers come across some intriguing photos and wish to do the same. The intention is good but the questions are not.

R0014770 (Small) (Now I added an image of a kid reaching up to the sky which was opening up to give a slightly different connotation: a budding Shenzhen full of hopes)

These questions epitomises a common fallacy: there is only one paramount standard of photography. And the standard is this: a perfect photo afforded by a specific camera or certain ways of handling a photo.

This fallacy is not obvious unless we do some reverse thinking: When is the last time you read a camera review? It can be just a week ago. Now, when is the last time you read an article on colours or perspectives, if ever?

R0014762 (Small)

(Bicycles somehow remind visitors to China of its more difficult, poor times. The contrast here can connect the viewers from Shenzhen's wealthy present to its less hopeful past)

I mean, there is a dearth of awareness in the importance and practices of aesthetics in photography. Our main concern is on the technical side of photography, our usual practice clicking the camera shutter and our last straw the snappy post processing.

R0014765 (Small) (The title "Perspective for Thought" is intended as a play of word. The photos in this post are interesting in their linear perspective to give a illusionary sense of scale and distance of the image which is a reflection. Here the lady passing by sort of punctures the illusionary scales of the buildings)

There is nothing wrong about all these. It is the preponderance of some aspect over the other which contributes to such an increasingly deep-rooted fallacy.

So, for the two things I wrote about learning photography yesterday, "the seeing" should be given more attention.

R0014761 (Small) (On Monday I wrote about making this a week or reflection. So all images are reflected here)

---- Postscript: A recent question asked by a reader on my GX200 image settings rang a bell of my fainting memory of the film years. But film photographers asked questions about brands of films mostly because different films boost unique characters suitable for specific photo subjects and themes. They also asked questions about the darkroom techniques. But unlike the costless PP software, the film photographers had to study the steps and their aesthetic results much more carefully or it would cost them their photos. They were less casual in my mind.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Learning Photography

R0014661 (Small)(They are not talking to each other. It is only the illusion afforded by the reflection from the mirror. The photo is so taken to represent how I see about the restaurant)

What are the things to l earn in photography? In short, two things. The answer lies in the essence of photography.

First, there are the photographic techniques which are primarily the know-how in using light in an image. Light is the soul of photography. To take photos is to paint with light. Light to a photographer is like a pen to a painter, a graver to a carver or a musical instrument to a musician.

Second, there is the seeing because a photo is basically the way of how the photographer sees an image with the right techniques to represent the seeing.

While techniques are more structured for learning, the seeing is more subjective and takes longer to mature. It goes without saying that the mastery of combining both produces what we consider photographic masterpieces.

Take the photos here for example. A few days ago I took my breakfast in one of the McDonald's outlets in Shenzhen, the Chinese boomtown neighbouring Hong Kong. Like when first opened in Hong Kong, the McDonald's was once a novelty in Shenzhen. Then It was the place where people dressed themselves up for a visit to try out meals. As the time worn on, the economy shot up and real haute-cuisine restaurants came on the scene around town, the McDonald's has became what it is worth and a place for food connoisseurs no more. But at the same time, the unhealthy culture of fast eats have spread far and wide to people of all age groups.

(So, guess which one is the reflection) R0014658 (Medium) So there I was taking my breakfast and, seeing the patrons of different ages, thought to myself, "How can I make a photographically interesting image to represent such a morphing of the McDonald's in Shenzhen?"

Finally, I came with this set of photos. The real and mirrored images are carefully knitted together (look at the edge of the chair, the ceilings and the gestures of the people) to connote a transition and present the age elements (the poster aimed at the children, the old lady and two young men) on the same plane. The complimentary colours (blue/purplish vs orange/yellowish) add an interest to such a novel representation of what a place I think the McDonald’s has changed into.Byrcolorwheel

(Colour dial: the opposite colours are complimentary to one and the other)

(Postscript: I went on a holiday for a couple of days with my GX200 for sure. One of the destinations was Shenzhen. Being away from familiar persons and things always gives us the breathing room to reflect and improve. So apart from clicking the camera shutter a lot, I reflected a bit on photography over the last few days. I did not come up with a long list of high-sounding conclusions. But I wish to write some posts on my pondering over "the seeing and techniques" as I did above.)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Upright, Upbeat, Upside

R0013150 (Medium)(Click open the photo to see it in colour and the way it relates to the topic and the message I relay below.  The water of the puddle along the roadside ditch is not clean.  But it reflects the blue sky.  There is always a good side in anything considered a downside.  For sure, the single leg is important to the photo as it somehow conveys a sense of looking or waiting or hesitating.  I like the colours, which compliment one and the other very well  indeed)

To those who are reading this at a later time zone than Hong Kong's, it is a fast-tracked Monday on this side of the globe. The motto of this week is to be upright and upbeat in whatever endeavours you will be engrossed in and always look at the upsides of things whenever and however you chew and cud afterwards.

And the theme of this week?  How about making it a reflection week.  As`usual, take more photos but this time with photos themed on reflections.  All you have to do is to carry your camera around and be observant.  Say something with your photos.  Surely, you can.

Then, show us.  Email your photos to me.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


R0013603a (Medium)(These are the flowers falling from the cotton trees.  The telltale signs of Spring they are, as well as remarks of the passage of a year. I watched them and became a bit philosophical. I took the photo and thought that I must write something with it)

Failures. We see failures as regrets in our life. Sometimes in failure we clench ourselves just a little bit too tight, and our sensibility is dampened.

Failures could smite us in all forms -- a relationship screwed up, a marriage lying in pain, a low-grade job, a delinquent son, a physically challenged daughter, marginal existence, illness, bereavement. We dread failures. We dodge failures. We cruse failures and crave for happiness.

And when everything can be done has been done to work around failures and, ironically, fail, we think we are left to the mercy of fate. Then we not only clench ourselves tight but also shut ourselves in. We may gradually sever most contacts with the world around us. We may spin mad on our bed at night when nighttime sounds echo in the silence of our smitten soul.

There is no happiness but hardship, no friends but fiends.

But have we closed our eyes and imagined what can be ahead of us. Imagine that we will have a lifetime of happiness: Can we bear it? Nope. No single man alive can bear it; it will be hell on earth. We will never find contentment. Or imagine that we will brace ourselves in solitude forever: What happiness can we find in solitude?

Failures have nothing personal to do with us. Paradoxically enough, we tend to indulge ourselves in failures. And in failure, we are cautious to love. It is exactly our caution in love that kills happiness. So, the vicious cycle sets in.

Failure is a part of our lives. Actually, failure is a part of the human history. When we are met with failures, treat them as uninvited guests. Wait and they will leave. Don't exhaust your love by indulging in cursing them. Accept love shown by people caring for you.

We can all do this. Simply open the window of our hearts and the door to our souls: unclench ourselves.