Saturday, 25 April 2009

Let Them Go

R0014029 (Medium) (These closets are not selling not because more people constipate. It is the economy which suffers from constipation. The shopkeeper looks puzzled)

When people constipate, they take laxatives to let "them" go. It is the same case for the economic constipation. Its bowels are stucked with toxic assests.

With the threat of losing jobs looming over the illed economy, people are cutting back consumption, not least in the real property market. Just as most other shops, these sanitary shops are facing a grim sales prospect because there are simply fewer home buyers. No wonder the shopkeeper looks puzzled.

Just in case you wonder, I took this photo while traveling on the upper deck of the bus with, of course, my GX200 :)

Friday, 24 April 2009

Dai Wok ! (Big Trouble)

R0014204 (Large)

This is live report from Nevin at Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. A reckless taxi driver has just got himself into a big trouble by banging into a police bike, knocking it down and almsot running over the police rider, who was clearing the taxis parked along the prohibitied parking area. The taxi driver was apparently too busy leaving the area before the poilice issued him a fine ticket that he missed the police bike moving ahead of him and hit it.

The bike went "boom" and the police was seen crawling away as quickly as his hands and legs could carry him. He could have been devoured and run over by the taxi if the driver had taken a second of two more seconds to brake the car. It was a near miss and really horrifying. A police was killed just last month when a van sent his bike like a cannon hitting a railing.

R0014205 (Large)

In a situation like this, any local would gasp and exclaim, "Dai Wok" or big trouble.  The taxi driver is really in big trouble now.  The road is cordoned off for investigation and the driver can have his licence suspended for some months.  Dai Wok!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Kai Jiu Phenomenon

R0012430 (Medium) (Self-Mockery Intended: Outside this empty shops, the big hanging banner by the property owner says, "Bills are strictly forbidden. Any breach will be reported to the government departmentts for law enforcement." But it falls to intimidate. Some bills are even posted on the banner itself)

Kai Jiu in Cantonese means "bills in the street", and is a must-see for tourists on a photography trip if you ask me. Kai Jiu or, to be exact, Tip Kai Jiu (literally "posting bills in the street") has long been a cultural phenomenon in Hong Kong. To the locals, whether for seeking part-time working opportunities, finding lost pets or persons, selling goods or renting out properties, the first thing springing to mind is Tip Kai Jiu. Actually, the Tip Kai Jiu phenomenon has been so popular that it even informs the marketing tactics from the entertainment to loan sharking businesses. For promotion of new movies or albums, Tip Kai Jiu is a surefire, cheap way to draw attention. Likewise, it is the same for loan sharks touting business or fetching runaway debtors; for that matter, there is a common saying "Tip Nei Kai Jiu" (post a bill about you in the street) to make people budge. The saying comes in many variant forms like, "Do you want me to Tip Nei Kai Jiu?" Where to take photos of these bills? The most usual spots for posting bills are the external gates and walls of banks. There is a good reason for this. The shops in the street which close for business at the earliest time are banks. Empty business premises and street facilities like lamp posts are also easy targets for posting bill posters.

R0013604 (Custom) (This bill poster uses a rod to stick bills on a higher position on the shop gate. Bill posters are quick on their feet. For one moment, certain bills appear on a spot; for the next moment, they are superimposed by some other bills before you know it. Again, this photo proves the advantage of the small size of the GX200 and other serious compact. A big DSLR would have alerted the man prematurely. Besides this, Gx200 has an advantage with its smart implimentation of fast wheels to tweak settings)

Bill posters are hired to post bills during the non-office hours. To get the biggest bang from the bucks, they are sent to post bills at the busiest shopping districts, especially along Nathan Road. So, visit any of these districts in late evenings and early mornings to take photos. But Saturdays are the best time because banks are closed on Sundays, giving the bills the longest air time in a week.

Kai Jiu are so ubiquitous that they are considered a threat to public hygiene by the government. Tip Kai Jiu is subject to a fine of HK$1,500 (US$200), raised from $600 in 2003, which is on a par with those for spitting, littering and dog fouling. This comparison speaks volumes for the rampant Tip Kai Jiu activities. But the fine is yet to assume an even enormous scale to overwhelm the proliferation of Kai Jiu, not least under this inclement financial weather which brings more shops to their demise.

R0012382 (Medium) (Kai Jiu is a very good photography theme. The culture, the living and the spirit of a place can all be seen on the colourful posters. Go to the red light district along Portland Street in Mongkok and the very inspiring posts will keep you clicking the camera shutter)

Let's conclude the post with a useful tip for posting bills about lost pets in the street. Usually, people hiding the lost pets will be unwilling to return the pets for some reason: resale values of the pets for one thing; emotional attachment to the pets for another. If it is a dog which you sure knows its way home just in case, try writing on the bill that it is a chronically ill animal needing medication and that people who return it will be rewarded with money. It has worked for some people.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Tighten Up the Frame

R0010769 (Medium) (Playground: Instead of putting many playground facilities in the photo, I shot a part of the monkey bars which looks like a smiling face, befitting the theme of playground)

A fellow photographer’s well-intentioned comment on the composition weakness in a photo of mine inspired me to write about this topic: visual impacts.

The most common weakness a photographer shows in a photo is too much coverage, which reduces the impact of the image. Take for example, it is way too common that the tyros include in a portrait the subject from head to toes. The more aggressive ones will even take in an extensive background. Now, if we look at the photo, the suject is too small to give a due impact . The photographer is now succeeded in producing a rather bland composition with superfluous information in the photo.

R0012595 (Medium) It should not be required saying that a close-up is not the single way to enhance the visual impact of a photo. But it is a much better alternative to a “head-to-toes” approach. A close-up can better reproduce the details of the subject and a quicker beat in the image. Such photos usually leave a deeper impression in the viewers’ mind.

(Old and New: I took the whole new building in another shot and it just falls flat in giving me the sense of pressure of development)

For a good close-up needs, I think we need three things to do the trick.

First, we need a zoom lens. To me, 105mm is the minimum. So, maybe for this reason, the next GX300 should extend the lens to a longer focal length without trading off the 24mm. Off course, whenever a photographer can move closer to the subject, do so.

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(The Butcher: Getting closer gives a more powerful image)

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Second, develop a good sense for a subject as an image with many disintegrated parts instead of a complete whole. Then, try looking for the small parts which can epitomise the whole subject.

Third, think out of the box for the composition. Impose on yourself a renewed way of looking at the same subject every time you see it. Be circumspective in tailoring the image to give the only necessary information.

(Leisure Reading: The composition is simple and tight enough for me to add a sense of leisure and serenity in the photo)

R0010257 (Medium) (Chocolate Sticks: The Marco mode comes naturally to photographers for shooting food, the reason, consciouously so or not, being that the composition will be more tight and compact. This magic also applies to other photographic themes. Next time when you take pictures, you may remind yourself the appeal of a tight and compact food image in Marco mode and tigthen up the composition)

The old photos here, here, here and here are examples of this strategy. To summarise this post, I’d use a catch phrase “Frame it tight”, with the “it” being the composition.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Dynamism and Active Space

R0014314 (Medium) (This is an extreme example to illustrate the effect of active space with the girl bleeds out of the front of the frame and the boy out of the rear, leaving a large expanse between them which can be considered an active space. The dynamism is shown by the blurry motion of the girl and the active space into which the boy is moving. Cover the boy and the active space becomes dead. Note the the diagonal plays a part in leading the gaze of the viewers to and fro the two subjects)

A tinge of dynamics will add an extra dimension to an image, which I prefer to stationary ones. For one thing, the dynamics highlight the immediacy of the scene; for another, dynamic movements (especially blurry motions) challenge our visual perceptions more effectively. The image turns more engrossing and somehow puzzling, and draws a longer attention from the viewers. Contrary to what you may have in mind, the dynamism in an image can come from both real motions and suggestions of them as my experience goes.

So how can dynamism be created in an image?

Active Space for Moving Subjects

The answer should not be required making: By taking photos of moving subjects of course! This is where "active space" falls into for a good reason. When shooting moving subjects, a photographer will come up with better dynamic shots if some space is left in the image for the subjects to "move into", a.k.a. active space. This idea is contrary to the dead space tailing a moving subject. While an active space adds dynamism to an image, a dead space waters it down which should be avoided to some extent (meaning a large expanse of dead space is a big no but some dead space is harmless or even practically needed depending on the scene).

IMG_0627 (Medium) (The repetitive and progressive patterns start from the old man as the main subject for he is the one shows most of his face in the image. What is he peeking at? The patters and his gaze direct the viewers to find the answers. The Chinese characters are names of drinks and foods)

Active Space for Non-Moving Subjects

Usually, for non-moving subjects, a photographer can heighten the sense of dynamism with repetitive patterns and the direction of gaze. This has to be complemented with the use of active space which is the area the patterns or the gazes 'move towards' in the image. A proportionally larger area of active space can exaggerate the element of dynamism in the image.

Take the above photo for example, the most important/obvious subject is the old man with most of his face showing in the image. He is looking from the right to the left. The active space is the area ahead of him. If the first woman is left out and replaced by some dead space behind the old man, the corollary is that the sense of dynamism falls flat and the photo turns bland. Besides active space, the idea repetitive patterns is also at work in the image to suggest a sense of dynamism. The somewhat repetitive, progressive bodily movements of people in the queue direct the viewers' attention from the main subject (the old man) forward to the first woman to find out what keeps the man stealing a peek of (the answer is written on the plastic signboard above the woman: bites and drinks for growling stomachs).

IMG_0627 (Medium) (2) (This PP image is shown to show those who are concerned about the soft character of images taken with the GX200. The original photo was taken with a G10. Even at the Normal image setting, the photo looks too saturated in colours to my eye. However, this image character is loved by most consumers. Compare the original saturated image and this softer PP image. A more saturated image is destined to forsake some details here and there whereas a softer one lacks the vividness of colours. It is a matter of choice and taste after all)

My impression is that most shutterbugs go for stationary subjects, save for professional photographers. Dynamic images are less common. Could it be because they are technically a bit more difficult? This should open up other topics like motions with flash and shutter speed versus motions, which I should jot down on my list of topics.

Monday, 20 April 2009


R0014460 (Medium) (A panning shot of the bush)

Last week, there was a post on panning shots for shooting static subjects for which I took plants as examples for the sake of illustration. The discussion will be incomplete without looking into another similar technique which is rotating the camera.

R0014456 (Medium)

If you use a DSLR or SLR with a zoom lens, the same trick can be done by rotating the zoom ring while pressing the shutter all the way down. For the sake of our concern, let's stick to serious compacts like GRDII, GX200, LX3, G10, P6000 and you name it.

Expose the scene to your liking but the shutter must be dragged down to a speed slower than the velocity of your rotating the camera (start from 1/15s depending on the lighting situation; you should experiment). Then press the shutter and rotate the camera. Usually, the rotation should be a quarter of a full circle to the maximum. For the above photo, the shutter was set to 1/4s (way beyond the safe shutter speed but doesn't matter much because a clear centre image is not needed here) and the camera had been rotated nearly half way to a circle when the shooting was done. It was too blurred to my taste.

So with the same exposure combo, the camera was rotated again by half a quarter of a circle this time. This produced the following photo.

R0014454 (Medium)

If you wish the pivot spot to be away from the centre of the image, tilt the lens to the desired spot when the camera is rotated. This will end up with an image like the one above. A caveat is that the farther away the pivot spot from the centre, the more oval-like it will appear in the final image.

R0014457 (Medium)

Depending on your creativity, these handy tricks of panning and rotating the camera can be useful in a wider application to achieve desired results. Take for example, these techniques can be used in shots of decorative Christmas lightings to give a more fancy atmosphere in the images like what the some of the photos here and here.

A human subject can be used in the centre for sure. In this case, the shutter speed should be safe enough not to prevent too much shaking. The rotation will give a diffused look to the image. You should experiment the best rotation effect to your taste. Also try this at night with a human subject at the centre and colourful lightings in the background to see what you will get.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

I Don't Remember

R0014821a (Medium)(I met with this old lady this afternoon at a roadside sitting-out area.  She grinned from ear to ear and lauged heartily when I asked her to put up a smile for some photos)

R0014823 (Medium) This old lady is well over 80 year old, resting at a sitting-out area when I took some photos of her.  As she told me, she lives in a house for the aged.  She was such an adorable od lady that when I asked her about her age, she giggled and said that it had slipped out of her mind.

"Do you know how old I am?" I aksed her.

She bursted out a fit of hearty laughters and replied in a naughty way, "You are 18."

I wished I were.

(What could she be probably thinking about tomorrow?)

 R0014822a (Medium)

R0014820 (Medium)Think about 80 years earlier when she was a baby girl, she needed attention from her mum.  Then 40 years later, she must been busy with raising her children.  Today, 40 more years later, there she was at a sitting-out area.  Life is short indeed.

The old lady said that she outlived her husband who died a few years ago because, as she said, he knew just about everything.

"For me, I don’t know about anything and I even don't remember much. That's why I am still alive," she gave her words of wisdom

R0014824 (Medium) (I like the softer character of GX200's images which suits my taste of portraits better.  The image is softer than Canon's even though I turned the sitting to Hard for the images here because of my forgetfulness)

Links to LNII Series

residents_head (Medium)

With a history of over 40 years, the LNII (Lower Ngau Tau Kwok Estate Phase II) is an weathered resettlement estate of the old days. It will remain a standing testimony to the way of life of the general public in Hong Kong before its demolition scheduled in mid-2009. To make way for the clearance scheduled for this summer, shops will be completely evacuated in April and all residential tenants will move out before some months afterwards. Before it goes into history books, photographers have flocked to the estate to take photographic records of it.

My LNII series were published in several instalments and the photos were taken by me with my GX200 during my two visits to the estate. I also did some research on the estate and the texts in the posts were written with reference to the information I managed to dig out. The links to all the instalments are appended below:

1) The Last Resettlement Estate (Introduction) 2) Living in Matchboxes (Years of Childhood) 3) Outlaw Territories (Problems in the Resettlement Estates) 4) Stores of Yore (Old Shops in LNII) 5) Shanghainese Barbershop (Barbershop in Rare Existence) 6) Mr Forgetful (Owner of an Old Grocer) 7) Daipaidong (Traditional Place for Cheap Eats) 8) Doors to the Past (Conclusions and Afterthoughts)

Some photos in preview:

R0013443 (Medium) R0013479 (Medium)

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