Saturday, 3 April 2010

Shoot Low

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When you shoot, where do you look? As far as I am aware, few people shoot low: that is, targeting the shadows as primary subjects. But shadows sometimes speak the scene more effectively, or at least in a much philosophical way.

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When shooting shadows, bias the exposure towards the brighter area so that the shadows will appear dark enough for a more dramatic contrast. You'll need to do this by spot-metering. In case you don't know, the camera's meter would otherwise be fooled to overexpose and wash down the shadows a bit.

And the best time to shoot shadows is 2 hours before or after midday (meaning when the sun is right above your head; not necessarily at twelve o'clock) when the dark tone of the shadows is just right. The best time in a year is in winter when the sun is low, extending shadows to a really long length.

Friday, 2 April 2010

That's Why You Ought to Bring It

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Bring what? Camera! What else? You're reading a photography sponsor's ruminations after all.

If I didn't have the camera with me, I would have missed the act of chutzpah of this man (I would have also missed these stunts in an old post here).

I didn't see how he managed to go up the bamboo scaffold, but am certain that he climbed with bare hands; more alarmingly, without any safety device!

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He was checking out something of which I had absolutely no idea.  In another five minutes, he was still safe and sound but – no he didn't fall down – I wondered if I should keep shooting or call him down for his safety's sake.

Despite the worry, I being overwhelmed by a photographer's instincts as always were still able to figure out the composition.  I purposefully included the ground below the man to show the viewers the height, hopefully accentuating the danger the man was risking.

R0018260 (Medium)Also, to balance the preponderance of weight on the left of the image, I waited for some road traffic passing the right before fully pressing the shutter release.

I was not satisfied yet because there is still something lacking in accentuating the point of interest, namely, the man's dangerous act.  Luckily, I finally got it: some passers-by went under the signboard leisurely without paying any attention to him.  The contrast hopefully adds tension to the image, stirring the viewer's minds about what if the man fell.

R0018261 (Medium)But, it is not always easy to learn from experience.  Just this evening, I was too hands full to grab my camera in the bag when two birds came perched atop a street-lamp pole against a background of a motley of lights and a darkening sky.  The top of the pole was at my eye level as I was on a footbridge.  The scene could have make a good photo.  It was really regrettable.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Not that We Don't Know

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Further to the discussion yesterday, I just have an example to exemplify the necessity of post-processing when it is not that we are idiotic about doing a photo properly but simply forbidden by circumstances.

I like this photo for how the ripples ruffled the reflection, making the solid buildings soft and dreamy.  It can suit a number of themes, particularly philosophical ones.  "Nature and Development" maybe.

But the colours in the photo are washy because of the haziness created by the strong ultraviolent light in this midday and the disarrayed light from the reflected surface of the water.

And since the reflection reduced the colour density, I had to slightly push up the EV but not for a lot lest the highlighted parts would be burnt out.

And I didn't have a ND or CPL filter on hand (yes, you can put the filter in front of the lens to make it work for a P&S camera.)

In this case, it is necessary to do post-processing to the photo which I think produces a much better image:

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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Through the Eye of Adjudicators

RIMG0833 (Medium)A boring photo.

A post last week recommended two photo contests to you. Have you figured out which photos to pick?

Taking part in a photo contest is an educational process. For the same theme, you will be amazed by how many different interpretations to produce a wide array of the final images. You learn from the winners about what make their works tick. If you're the winner, the result could unleash your photographic creativity to another level as your talents and skills are then proven.

RIMG0837 (Medium)Why not walk the scene and shoot from a novel point of view?

Winning a photo contests requires a combination of, or rather a coincidence of, different factors. As far as my experience goes, they are:

1. Be passionate about your life. In other words, as discussed before, photographers have to "feel" the scene before taking a shot. The ability to feel a scene is nourished by your passion in life. Without passion or feelings, photographers can never produce images which really captivate people's eyes and minds.

RIMG1026 (Medium)Can't be more boring than this?

2. Make use of post-processing unless it is not allowed. Here we are talking about only the tweaking to bring out the colours and down the undesirable elements in the shots which were subdued or exaggerated by the actual shooting conditions. However, in most photo contests organised by non-photographers, which unfortunately is usually the case, post-processing of any sort is forbidden. Fact is, digital photography is inseparable from post-processing.

RIMG1027 (Medium)Why not pan the camera and give the image a unique impressionist touch?

3. Most importantly, see your photos through the eye of adjudicators. Imagine yourself to be one of the adjudicators confronted by thousands of entries. As your senses are numbed by the sheer number of images, which photos do you think can really capture your attention? Much like in a debate competition where truth doesn't necessarily triumph, photos being photographically perfect do not surely win in a photo contest. With other things being equal, images which are done with a novel, intriguing and unique touch generally have a higher chance of winning.

RIMG1029 (Medium)Oh, this sucks!

Just because this is the case doesn't mean that you must make the images technically and compositionally complicated. After all, it is how best the images can reflect the theme that counts the most in a contest.

RIMG1033 (Medium)Hey, make use of reflective surfaces to produce a more intriguing image!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Old Railway in Tai Po

Opening of the British section of the Kowloon-Canton Railway view of Tai Po 1 October 1910 View of Tai Po in 1910

While the Tai Po Market featured in yesterday's post is a living reminder of the folk history, the Hong Kong Railway Museum adjacent to it gives a glimpse into the way of life under the British colonial history.

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RIMG8499 (Medium)The Hong Kong Railway Museum was converted from the actual Old Tai Po Market Station, occupying some 6,500 square metres.  Facing the main  entrance is a distinctive station building which was architecturally different from other old stations along the railway line.  It is built in a traditional  Chinese style with a pitched roof.  The ridge and gables of the building are adorned with auspicious Chinese motifs such as red bats, peonies and magpies, which are characteristics decorations on traditional Chinese residences.  The station building alone is worth a special trip to the museum.

The Old Tai Po Market Station served the then Kowloon-Canton Railway (British Section) which was open on 1 October 1910. 


Until 1949, through train service between Kowloon and Canton (now Guangdong Province in the Mainland China) had been operated by the KCR.  The service interrupted by the communist takeover of China in 1949 was resumed eventually in 1979.


description for A KCR TRAIN PASSING THROUGH THE SHA TIN VALLEY 1965Situated about halfway along the old railway line, Tai Po was developed into a centre of administration and trade.  The location of the Old Tai Po Market Station on the south back of the Lam Tsuen River (the Lam Tsuen village holds a tree wishing ceremony each year during the Chinese New Year) brought prosperity to Tai Po Market.

Of course, the museum also has exhibits of used engines and coaches.  For fans of Thomas the engine, don't miss the narrow-gauge steam locomotive which is the same model as Duck.

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RIMG8492 (Medium) RIMG8512 (Medium)A coach built in 1911 

I was lucky enough to have some experience riding on the old coaches when I was a small child.  As long as I can remember, the lighting of the coaches went off every time the train drove through a tunnel.  As the windows were open, the puffing of the engine and chuffing of the coaches going echoed through the compartments, which was flavoured by the burning smell of the smoke from the engine.

RIMG8504 (Medium)Third-class coach

RIMG8525 (Medium)First-class coach 

The compartments were busy with people going from one car to another to find available seats.  Hawkers were somehow allowed on the train to sell drinks and fruits which were put in two large rattan baskets tied to the separated ends of a bamboo carried on the hawkers' shoulder.

RIMG8495 (Medium)Diesel electric engine No. 51

These hawkers added to the traffic of people passing along the compartments throughout the trip.  The leftovers of whatever were bought and consumed were simply thrown out of the windows.

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Crossing from the Chinese border to take the train at the British Section was a painful experience.  Passengers simply elbowed their way through the crowds to get on the train and get a seat.  Everyone was exhausted after long travelling in China and desperate to get a seat for some rest before the train could reach Kowloon in an hour.

RIMG8486 (Medium) The rails have been raised and realigned for the museum which originally ran in below the platform.

I still recalled how people would jumped down the platform to cross the railway to the other platform to buy food from hawkers or for the loos.  The busy pedestrian traffic on the railways was quite a spectacular scene to a small child.  My dad even held me down to the railway and showed me how to detect the coming of a train. 

RIMG8489 (Medium)The levels to control the signalling signs 

He would put a coin on the rail.  When the train was coming to an adequately near distance, the coin would vibrate.  The nearer the train was to the station, the crazier the coin would dance.  The young me was amused and thought that my dad knew a lot.

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Monday, 29 March 2010

Tai Po

R0011881 (Medium)People fished on two boats underneath a footbridge in the present-day Tai Po.

If you go on a trip in Hong Kong or even live here, there is a place you must visit: Tai Po.

a british guard in tai po 1951Tai Po is situated in the northern part of the New Territories.  The names of both already carry some history.  Tai Po literally means "Big tai po aerial 1950s Cloth", a name used since the late 1800s resembling the earlier name "Big Step (stride)".  The words "cloth" and "step" are homophonic in Cantonese, the language spoken in Southern China.  The name "Big Step" is thought to be originated from the sea fronting the area, the "Big Step Sea", now known as the "Tolo Harbour".

In 1898, the Qing Emperor of Imperial China ceded the vast area to the north of Kowloon to the British by way of a treaty.  At that time, the Royal Army already took hold the the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.  This area was therefore called the New Territories.  In April 1898, the British gunboats moored at the Tolo Harbour and the navy landed on Tai Po for a ceremony to take over the New Territories.  With the raising of the Union Jack, and the singing of God Save the Queen (understandably unlike now, with gusto), the British started its administration of the New Territories using Tai Po as the regional administrative centre.  The choice was made on account of Tai Po having been the centre of this vast area of mainly farmlands then.

 hong kong British defence corp 1919

There was a frequently quoted phrase to describe the Hong Kong under the British colonial rule, "a borrowed place with borrowed time".  With a combination of lacking plans, determination and capability, the British administrators had tilted the development to the cities nearer to the Victoria Harbour so much that most of the New Territories was developed in a haphazard fashion.  That was a good thing because the limited intervention of the government ensured limited financial viability to lure private developers to set foot on the place.  Therefore, the cultural heritage of indigenous people has largely been preserved in the New Territories.  For its pivotal role in both the demographic and administrative terms, Tai Po is unique in this regard.

tai po stall in 1957

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If you take the train to Tai Po, you drop off at the Tai Po Market Station.  Why no "Tai Po" but the "Tai Po Market"?  Two reasons: first, the old train station was situated right next to the market; second, the Tai Po Market is the icon of the place.

RIMG8467 (Medium) A store selling nuts and crisps in the Tai Po Market.

Since Tai Po was the city centre of the New Territories dating back to the Qing Dynasty, the Tai Po Market had been a main marketplace where the farming communities sold and bought their daily provisions.  The present-day market occupied largely the same area as in the days of old.

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A primitive meat store not commonly found in the city districts.  The way how the flights of stairs extend to the pavement is also uncommon.

The open-air market sells both wet and dry  goods items.  It still serves as the main market for most locals even though there is a purpose-built air-conditioned market block not far away.

RIMG8469 (Medium)Chinese salted and dried sausages which make a local delicacy.  These sausages sold in the Tai Po Market are thicker than usually available.

RIMG8472 (Medium)These dreadful canes were the normal punishment tools parents and teachers used to deter disobedient children.  It was really surprising to find them still available in the Tai Po Market.

The exotic atmosphere is what you should look for while strolling in the market.  Some produce and products may not be easily found elsewhere in other markets here.

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The sense of oldness is strong as evidenced by the preservation of even the "No Hawking" sign (top right in the above image) of which the likes were ubiquitous in the colonial years of Hong Kong.  Most places in the old Hong Kong were plagued by serious problems of illegal hawking, which in turn gave rise to blackmailing by gangsters.

Tai Po Market is the place to make a photographic trip.

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