Saturday, 20 March 2010

Echoes of the Rainbow

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This shot was taken in an old area in Hong Kong where the buildings are in bad repair as the signboard "Ming Hing Steelworks" and the smudged wall suggest. 

One of the way for a photographer to improve his photographer's eye is to learn from the masters.  One can get a lot from the photography masters, especially those who film movies.

Movies are more interactive than still photography.  The audience follow the scenes from one moving shot to the next which, as compared with still shots,  is more relevant to a photographer who judges a shot by walking around and gauging the lighting conditions.  The photographer can see a movie as a series of continuous still shots with the benefit of instantly comparing which shot from what angle can give what kind of effects.  Which is not possible by learning from the non-related individual still images.

I go to the movies around three times a month.  The best of this month is the locally produced Echoes of the Rainbow which is set in the 1960s of Hong Kong, a time when this former British colony was fought with corruption, poverty and uncertainty arising from the chaos across the border with China.  It has been awarded the Crystal Bear award at Berlin Festival.  It is beautifully done in both its story line and photography.  I was very touched by it.  Highly recommended.


Captions in English

0:20 – In the years when lives hinged on faith

0:32 – People charged forward with the mixed blessings of faith.

0:41 – In the years when love was sacrificial

1:28 – We were there and tasted such love (1:32) even though life was so very unpredictable.

1:57 – In a life which is fought with unpredictable changes, lots of things wore away with the wearing of time.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Street Humourism

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In the harm's way he certainly is.

Bear with me for coining the word "humourism" for there is no better choice to describe the topic of today.

Street humourism refers to the quality of those street shots which gives off a sense of humour. To me, the most valuable aspect of street shots is spontaneity. The photographer stumbles across a scene which can make a good photo and take it. There should not be any premeditation in the shot except for the final image the photographer visualises in his mind.


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The Kungfu fanatics are giving the passer-by a physical knock on the head and a kick in the back.

This valuable aspect also applies to street humourism. In operation, the photographer takes a creative interpretation of a common scene which the viewers come across so very often that they don't even think of seeing it in such a novel angle. So, the secret is to do the shot "as is". The photographer is not supposed to add, say, a prop or arrange someone doing the trick in the shot. Such premeditation will show itself somehow in the final image. Maybe it will not show but the humour is lost. Keep practising likewise and we are surely not going to see the first-rate works of street humourism from that very photographer.

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Ouch! Don't pull my hair!

Humour is not a joke, or not just a joke. Humour is more subtle but lingering in taste, like a sip of some vintage wine. It works best when the subject is obvious and related to the daily routines but has gone unnoticed to the viewers. Mixing such subjects of different themes in the same image achieves an even better humourous effect.

The secret is there. Next, practising your photographer's eye with a camera on the street. The more you observe and feel, the bigger the improvement you will see in your shots.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Making of

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A large proportion of the local Chinese community is atheistic. You may have seen pictures of the Chinese people holding joss sticks and bowing to the deities in temples of various sorts. At the core, they are worshipping whatever deities they think can protect them. It is probably a Confuscian influence here: "Pay tribute to the spiritual world but distant oneself from it" is a his famous teaching deeply-rooted in the Chinese community.

So, in the first photo, notice the shiny plank behind and to the right of the octagonal plate. In front of the doors to most homes and shops in Hong Kong the same planks stand. On it the words "Deity of the Earth at the Door" are written.

Usually this plank is fronted by a pot-like shrine in which tiny joss sticks are burnt. The pot-like shrine is exactly like the one placed to the right of it in the photo.

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The making of this home for the master of the earth in front of the door is like this: use a piece of whatever wood as long as it is not expensive and stencil the Chinese words on it "Deity of the Earth at the Door"

Then, take out a craving knife to crave the wood along and within the stencilled strokes. P1080459 (Medium)

The craving doesn't seem to be difficult but the skills actually take time to perfect. The craver is not supposed to make scratches on the surface of the wood outside the stencilled characters.

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When the craving is done, paint the characters with golden paint to make them look like gilt. The reason why painting the characters in golden colour is, I suppose, to lure the Deity to stay. Isn't that bribery?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Two Photo Contests

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The winner in FoE's 2009 Photo Contest (Biodiversity Lost)

Photo contests are good way to sharpen our photographic skills.  Here are two photo contests which are open until April.

The first one is Friends of the Earth's fifth photo contest.  The theme this year is Acting in Solidarity and Building Moments for Change. FoE says on its website:

"This international photo competition will gather photos from around the world on the theme of 'Acting in Solidarity and Building Movements for Change'. The best shots will be featured in materials produced by these organizations and social movements, including a 2011 calendar and an international photo exhibition."

imageThe winner in FoE's 2009 Photo Contest (Biodiversity Preserved)

More about the competition, which is to be closed on 1 April, can be learned here.  There are cash prizes for the winners: 400 euros for each first place photo; 200 euros for each second place photo; and 100 euros for each third place photo.

image The other contest is for our Chinese readers.  It is held by a local body in Hong Kong promoting good virtue.  The website doesn't say that the entries are restricted for Hong Kong residents.  So supposedly there is no restriction on the eligibility of participants from outside the city.

The prizes will amount to over HK$ 40,000.  However, the organiser is shy about the details of the prizes.  The deadline is by five in the afternoon by 30 of April.  Go here for more details.

Get your camera and take photos!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

If a Photographer Knows the History

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If that's the case, the photographer is more able to bestow his feelings on the the final images. That brings us back to the comment that photographers should first feel the scene which I wrote in yesterday's post. This post is a footnote to it.

Today's two photos are nothing spectacular, not if you know nothing about the history of the Hong Kong.

To put the statement in perspective, let's learn something cultural about Hong Kong. Before the order of English sentences made a stronger influence on the local Chinese community, most Chinese printed materials were read from right to left horizontally -- the horizontal order was already influenced by the English. The reason is that the traditional order of Chinese sentences is from right to left vertically, which is still the case in the Chinese community in Taiwan.

With the passage of time, the Chinese in Hong Kong adopted the horizontal left-to-right writing order for the sake of convenience. Imagine the clumsiness in putting the left-to-right Arabic numerals or English acronyms in the right-to-left Chinese sentences.

So, here is a photo telling you some history in this regard. See the signboard in chopping-knife shape? It says, "Chan Chi Kee Knifesmith" in a right-to-left order. Now compare it with the signboard down below. It says, "Sun Sing Cheong Joss-Ware" in a left-to-right fashion. What are included in the final image is to give viewers a glimpse into the historical change in the writing order. Now you know why the photographer composed the photo this way and also waited until there were a van and a bike passing by to echo the contrast.

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Now, see the facade of the leftmost building in the second image. It is decorated with the same Chinese phrase on each floor, saying "Double Light Electrical Appliances Company". This was a popular way in the early days of Hong Kong to flaunt one's wealth: the building was built and owned by the company.

If you have knowledge of this historical fact, you will know why the image includes the signboards of the nightclubs in the foreground. Nightclubs were the entertainment for the rich in the old days of Hong Kong. This image gives out -- at least tries to do so -- a melancholy feeling of the past glorious days of these old buildings and nightclubs, as well as their patrons.

This a footnote to my comment that photographers have to feel the scene before taking a shot.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Winners of HKPPA's Photos Competition 2009

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HKPPA stands for Hong Kong Press Photographers Association.  It holds an annual photos competition for its members.  The results of the 2009 Competition has been announced.

The above photo is the First Runner Up of the Spot News section.  Its caption says, "Pro-democracy protesters carrying a mock coffin try to cross a police line during a demonstration demanding China improve its human rights record, outside the Chinese liaison office in Hong Kong October 1, 2009."

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The winner of the Sports section is by a press photographers from Reuters MC Siu, who wrote about the photo that  "China's Qi Xihui waits to compete during the clean and jerk session of the women's +75kg competition at the East Asian Games in Hong Kong."

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This honourable mention in the Sports section is quite likeable too. "Robert Ebersohn (C) of South Africa flipping over during their match against Uruguay in the Day two of the IRB Hong Kong Sevens on March 28, 2009 in Hong Kong."  It was the work of Victor Fraile of Getty Images.

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This winner of the Nature and Environment section was shot during a competition event of the East Asian Games held in Hong Kong last December.  The strong illumination caused the flock of birds to fly hysterically around the lights panel.

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The winning photographer in the People Portraits section did this photo of Ching, a famous local journalist jailed in China for allegedly leaking national secret.  The shot was done during an interview with Ching in Hong Kong about his life as an inmate in the Chinese prison.

The photographs in the winning league combined to testify a known fact: good photos basically comes from good observation.  Of course, we don't rule out the elements of luck, timing, composition, exposure and so on.  But the photographers have got to have a sharp mind and eye when the right scene presents itself.

So how do you train your photographer's eye?  Don't just become content with shooting photos for quantity's sake.  As GX GARNERINGS always advocates it, bring a camera with you and see with your observant mind.  First of all, feel with your observant mind.  Without true feelings, the photos are dead.

More of the competition results can be seen here.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Most Hilarious Floral Basket

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Someone stuck in the rubbish bin a placard originally used for a floral basket to congratulate the opening of a cellar, making it the most hilarious floral basket ever!  One thing funny about the placard is the names of the givers, namely and literally, second uncle, third uncle, forth uncle, fifth uncle and sixth aunt.

This is Sunday.  Have a day full of laughter!