Saturday, 23 May 2009

Vestiges of Impressionism

R0015032 (Medium)(This junk is operated by the Hong Kong Toursim Board to amaze the tourists.  People working on board simply sail the junk hither and thither around the Vicotria Harbour.  Great for a photo to contrast the modern highrises with it)

Hong Kong has been rather wet for a few days.  The Observatory issued the yellow rainstorm warning (which precedes the higher red and highest black warnings) days ago.  With the inclement weather, some normal scenes would become more intriguing and photos taken in this weather can give unexpectedly good results.

All a photographer has to do is find a safe place to position your camera, making sure that it is out of the harm’s way as raindrops spatter and splash.

R0015028 (Medium)(This is the best to my taste among this lot of photos.  It somehow appeals to me as an impressionist painting replicating a scene along the River Seine in Paris but with Hong Kong and the Vic Harbour as the background)

Since the environmental light was low, the camera was duped to come up with an exposure combo only to overexpose the scene, which would have spoiled the gloomy atmosphere.  As I was using the manual mode on my GX200, I just dailed the combo down two stops.  Otherwise, the hazy shapes of the building on the other side of the harbour would have disappeared in the final image.

R0015024 (Medium)(This family appeared to be tourists as they strolled around the harbourfront aimlessly just to admire the scenery in rain.  The space behind them in the photo is dead space which should be avoided.  The active space in front of them shows a sense of moving direction of the subjects, which is normally prefered in an image)

Another thing is that if you stand under a building, the waterdrops can land from the ceiling right on your camera.  So beware.  I'd got a near miss when taking these photos.
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As the wind and the rain intensified, the raindrops spattered towards my position.  Not hoping to risk my GX200 and being quite happy with the photos I did, I walked away just in time to spare myself a thunderstorm some half an hour later.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Close Enough?

R0013022a (Medium) (Shops selling these scrumptious foods, collectively know as Siu Mei [literally Barbecued Flavour] are ubiquitous thoughtout Hong Kong. Be it piglet meat [far left], chicken, BBQ pork or goose, the secrets are in the timing of barbecuing and recipe for marinating. If you have been to Hong Kong but without tasting'em, you haven't quite seen the real Hong Kong yet)

Photographers are taught to be in the action, meaning that a good picutre is usually made possible with the photographers close enough to the spot of action. But how close is not too close?

To me, this is all about relevance in terms of composition and theme.

Composition-wise, the point should not be required making. Zooming the lens or moving yourself about can make or break the composition of an image to your taste.

How about theme? Take for example the above example, the image is intended to show the full array of food items sold in the Siu Mei shop, with the chef as a complimentary subject to act life to the image and give some extra information to the viewers. Moving a bit backward would have included unnecessary information in the image. For example, the spotlights above the window panel. Moving closer would have defeated the intention because some essential information would have been trimmed off.

So, my practice is, first think up a theme, then decide the composition and lastly get to the right physical position. One thing is sure: standing too far away from the scene usually results in an image too confusing and less powerful. Shooting landscapes is a different issue, of course.

To illustrate a bit further, here are three more shots:

Theme: The chicken meat is mouth wetting I needed the composition largely filled with images of the chicken. The oil droplets dripping from the chicken legs add some strength to the message. I stood very close with my GX200 turned to the Marco mode. The chopping board and the chopping knife are the supplementary subjects.

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Theme: The chicken meat is being prepared I needed the composition with the chicken meat as a secondary subject to boost the message to be delivered by the primary subject, which is achieved by the chef's hands getting hold of some chicken meat. The legs dripping oil become the foreground to add interest to the image, which was shot with me stepping a step back from the window.

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Theme: The kitchen for the preparing chicken I needed the composition to include more information in the background, which is the kitchen. If I included too much background, the interest of the image would have been diluted. I just retracted the lens to a bit wider and got this shot.

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

My Belly is Better than Yours, Sir!

I take lots of street shots each day.  This post aims to show how I do street shots with a very recent example: a photo I took just a few hours ago.

R0015673police (Medium)(This shot was made possible by the unassuming appearance of GX200 and its fantastic egronomics.  I had borrowed a LX3 for a week and found that for street shots it worked very differently with its shiny body and relatively awkward controls)

The theme for this month's photo contest is Police, Cops, Sherrifs.  I could have posted one of the old police photos as my entry.  But later I hoped to take a photo especially for the contest.  I planned to take a shot with a either quality of seriousness to it, or with a sense of humour. 

Either way, the image must show the police's face.  And this was the biggest challenge cos no one would hope to be interrogated.  I would have to take the shot by stealth.

Then early this evening I ran into this police hands-on-hip, obstentiously showing his big belly. Good grief, he is a policeman!  He needs to keep his body in good condition, does't he?  I immediately saw that he could make a funny photo.

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So I walked slowly trailed him as he strolled along rather leisurely, checking out  the window displays.  I turned the GX200 to MY1 custom mode, which I set to fixed focus at one metre.  I slowly went past him and pointed the camera, tied to the neck strip around my neck, to his direction.  Before doing so, I, following me,  gathered the right position to hold the GX200.  With daily practices, I could hold the camera and blindly shot an image with the right alignment.  Take this photo for example, this is striaght out of the camera without cropping or rotation applied.

I went further ahead and noticed on the LCD that the photo was far from pleasing.  I hesitated a bit and finally, having turned around, walked back.  That was what I mean a photographer's mindset: take the shot now or it will never present itself again.  Every scene is unique in its own time slot with the specific combination of subjects and lighting conditions.

The secret of succeeding in making sharp street shots by stealth is that you should pre-expose and pre-focus the scene.  You should also make the shutter fast enough so that the shot will not be blurred while you pause for a tenth of a second to press the shutter.  Of course, you should have the composition in your mind, which take practices to do right.

So when I was pretty close to the police at about one metre, I pasued for less than a second and took the first photo of this post.  Actually, I saw the lady with the baby coming along behind the police before taking the shot.  I sort of expected the composition to be like what I ended up.

The scene has a humourous taste.  The police and the lady, kudos to the hands-on-hip gesture and the lady's scornful facial expression, made an interesting contrast.  They seemed to be competing for the bigger belly.

"My belly is bigger than yours, SIR!" scorned the lady.

"I agreed," said the baby boy.

"Right," I though to myself, wondering which one of them could run faster.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Cantonese Food Pornography

R0012349 (Medium) (The secret of taking this photo with my GX200 is to stand on a chair and do the shot as quickly as possible. The hungry stomachs started without waiting for me)

Today, follow me on an utterly naked account of my favourite Cnatonese way of eating: the Cantonese hotpot.

After the invention of air-conditioners, hotpots made its way into one of the most common dinning style in all seasons. Most Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong serve hotpot dinner at a reasonable price. Notably, there are some famous hotpot eateries in the neighbourhood of Kowloon City which are worth a special visit next time you are in Hong Kong.

So what for a hotpot?

The King and the Queen


Frist things first. The prima donna of a hotpot is the soup base. There are a whole array of soups for a hotpot. For those who have a penchant for spicy food, the satay or the curry soup. Otherwise, the regular Chinese soup is all very fine. Eaters can order special Chinese herbal soups too. The soup is filled with tofus and corn cobs to make the soup sweeter to the taste.


The second-in-command for a hotpot meal is the dipping sauce. Like what the dips are to the Mexican foods, the sauce is the soul of hotpot. A mouth-wetting sauce is usually the secret weapon of a successful hotpot eatery. Mix the sweet soy sauce with some Japanese wasabi, sesame oil, and you will end up with a great dish of your own secret weapon. A dip or two for the food will be as refreshing as a tall cup of coffee in the morning.

So with these two king and queen of the hotpot, you are ready to serve all the raw foods on the table. The cooking is done individually with the small metal sieves provided to each person. Now, what to cook?

The Must-Haves

fatty beef sheetbeef shrimpfish cutlet

The must-have dishes for a hotpot meal are, from left to right, fatty beef sheets, srhimps/ beef and fish cutlets. The fatty beef sheets are specially cut into such thin slices for quick cooking in the hotpot. As for the fish cutlets, try the scrumptious carp cutlets. Marinate the fish cutlets well before serving on the table.




There is no hotpot without meatballs in Hong Kong. By saying meatballs, I mean the whole variety of them. Click open the picture on the left and you will see four different kinds of them: the white round ones are squid meatballs, the brownish ones are beef meatballs, the brownish ones with blackish dots are pork meatballs with mushroom shreds, the pyramid-shaped ones are fish meatballs with various sorts of juices at the cores. Mussels (middle photo) are great for hotpot. So are the crabs. Although not shown here, vegetables are needed for a hotpot to dilute the heavy meat recipe.

To make the hotpot dinner more satisfying, the udon noodles are usually eaten nearing the end before you are too full. For drinks, buy bottles of Chinese plum juice (Suen Mui Tong in Cantonese) and freeze them really cold in the frig before use.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Artistic Assembly Works

R0015455 (Medium)
(The bamboo scaffold covered by a huge nylon sheet and mesh was cut with several of such artistic openings. I lost no time in taking the picture with my GX200)

Yesterday, we looked at some images of streetscape and the skyline framed by the bamboo scaffolding. These bamboo sticks decorate the city in many more other ways too. The scaffolds take different forms of artistic assembly works, even more so when covered in nylon mesh.

(More often than not, a better photo requires the photography to scout the site for an ideal position. Originally, I stood on the street but the up-tilting shots of these openings rendered distorted images. So I ventured in the building opposite the bamboo scaffold. Through some quiet corridors and staircases, I R0015451 (Medium)finally managed to ascend to almost the same level to the openings and took this photo)

It is required by the law to cover bamboo scaffolding with nylon mesh to prevent objects falling from height. For reason of countering wind, the mesh covering the scaffolding will be punctured or cut with similar openings. To most eyes, this scene is interesting and that's all. But as a photographer with a trained eye, it is a sin not to find the best position to record it. So a responsive and trusty camera, a trained eye and a photographer's mindset are the assests of all following photoraphers. Of course, luck always plays a part in whatever we do, photography included.

R0015449a (Medium) (This scene reminds me of the stages built with bamboo scaffolds and zinc sheets for Cantonese opera performances during the Chinese ghost festival in July. If you have a chance to be here then, look for one in a football court near the Hong Kong Aviation Club in Kowloon City)

It is interesting to look from the outside of a bamboo scaffold covered in nylon mesh. But the scene is much more absorbing to me when looking from under one. It is not sheer chance that I saw one. I actually looked around the city after lunch one day. The scene is too contrasty for the GX200; so some post-processing was done to juice up the exposure. I am sure that the Ricoh CX1, with its ability to cover a range of 12EV, will do justice to this scene.

(Bamboo scaffold builders starting from
ground zero with the humble sticks)
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The bamboo scaffold builders are really amazing with their skills in building such artistic assembly works with the humble sticks. They are not workers in the cheap low stratum of the society, but the true art workers of massive scale to beautify the city. For sure, their bamboo scaffolds have very practical values. Hong Kong will be a world much less lively fascinating without their bamboo sticks. Their trade should be more highly valued in my opinion.

In fact, these fastastic builders can set up different forms of bamboo scaffolds on slopes, at shopfronts and encirculing houses, to name a few. Bamboo scaffolds are also used to build the bun mountains for the annual bun grabing competition in Cheung Chau (literally Long Island because of its shape) of Hong Kong.

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Monday, 18 May 2009

Grating the Skyline

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This is to continue the two previous posts on bamboo scaffolding here and here published the week before the last.

Looking at bamboo scaffolds can be an interesting activity around town in Hong Kong.  The bamboo sticks knitted together form squares which decorate the skylines, making it more visually interesting.

With imagination, the right lighting conditions and a bit of luck, any photographer can take intriguing photos with the bamboo sticks as frames to serve as the foreground.

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You may view a bamboo scaffold as a piece of art on a massive scale.  Actually, it is.  Hong Kong has set up a special institute to train up bamboo scaffold builders.

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It is amazing to see bamboo sticks forming a tall gateway to give access to passers-by going under the building and to workers climbing up to its higher levels.  This was taken near the area where the black community gathered in Tsim Sha Tsiu not far away from the Muslim Mosque.

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Sunday, 17 May 2009


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Once again, the benefit of bringing along a serious compact with you all the time can be seen here.  There are just too many unexpected scenes presenting themselves in wherever one goes.

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A full-scale DSLR or even the smaller G-1 can't do quite the same job.  Being in low profie is all-important to street photography in most ocassions, true to most of the photographers I think.

There were people around when I took this photo in a public swimming pool.  And I had no idea whether the snorting man had a friend or two around.  So I just approached him in a casual manner and took the picutre with my GX200 pressed against my belly.  Of course, I metered the scene and figured the approximate composition before moving towards him.

This’s fun.  Have fun this Sunday!