A Short Introduction to Hong Kong Street Photography


Having lived in a certain city for a prolonged period of time, we often become immune to the characteristics and qualities of our surroundings that make the place we live in so unique. Street photography is one of the ways to keep the allure of your chosen destination very much alive by showing you key moments and interactions that a specific place is built on. Through these photos, you are inviting the viewer to share in your moment of observation, weaving together the elements of a particular location and event into a largely subjective narrative open to interpretation. Each one of these images can tell a story, and, if you've even been to Hong Kong, you'll know that the streets here a vast anthology of stories constantly unfolding. 

Telling stories through street photography

Street Photography in Hong Kong

Whilst you may be inclined to visit some of the popular 'Instagram spots' whilst you're here, there are actually certain qualities and features of Hong Kong streets that offer that feeling of locality without you having to venture out your way to a certain area. These include things like narrow streets, market stalls, towering buildings, trams and tram lines, sloping roads, red taxis and neon lights. No matter where you're staying you can be sure that you won't be far from one of these aforementioned objects - be sure to use them to your advantage when considering the composition and style of your shots. In addition to these elements, the Beyond Visuals team have put together some key considerations for improving your street photography, have a read, then grab your camera and put them into practice.

Use local features to enhance your shot

Our top tips for street photography (in Hong Kong):

1. Look for sources of light

In Hong Kong these are abundant and often unique. Neon signs and market stalls offer interesting combinations of coloured light that illuminate street scenes in different ways during the evening. Puddles and car roofs make for perfect sources of reflection that can add special touches to your photo. During the day be mindful of the sun direction and shadows cast by the buildings - these can essentially make or break your photo, and it's best to be wary of where the sun will be at specific times of the day.

2. Observe the moments that often go unnoticed.

A quick market transaction, a bus driver waiting for passengers, a security guard snoozing in the shade, a lady standing out in the rain smoking a cigarette - all of these are moments that most people miss completely. As street photography is largely about the art of observation, take note as to all of the seemingly insignificant instances and interactions going on around you and try to capture them where possible. For that Hong Kong 'zeitgeist', add the elements we discussed previously - a transaction at a local market stall, a person climbing on to a tram, a bus driver (on one of the small red buses) waiting for passengers.  All of these things combined will help make your photos destination-specific and thought provoking.

Street photography is about the art of observation

3. Be aware of your shutter speed.

Especially at night! For all of the illuminated market stalls and shop fronts, there are plenty of poorly lit roads and back alleys. You'll need to adjust your shutter speed and ISO accordingly and when doing so be aware of your own ability to hold the camera steady at slightly slower shutter speeds. Standing in the middle of the road or a crowd might make this particularly difficult, so consider the balance of settings needed to get the best result.

4. Use the buildings here to your advantage.

The architecture here is especially prominent and can fulfill multiple functions in your street photography depending on what lens you're using and what area you're exploring. For slightly wider shots, narrow alleyways from the towering structures around the city can serve as leading lines, frames and backgrounds to your photos. When composing your photo be aware of cutting off a sign or building that could add an extra element to your shot so don't forget to look up when you're walking around with your camera. 

Take note of light and shadows cast by the buildings - if you're in the central district during sunset or sunrise, the light you capture and how you capture it are going to be heavily influenced by the surrounding office blocks and apartments. 

Using signs and buildings to frame your shots

5. Take public transport - a lot. 

The trams here are not only a convenient way of getting around, they're also an incredible way to get photos of a variety of locations without ever getting off. The windows on the trams usually roll down, and with a variety of lenses you can get different results. Don't forget to use the windows and seating of the trams and buses to your advantage - they make for great frames and provide context for passenger interactions taking place on the vehicle itself. 

6. Don't be afraid to explore. 

When you do get off the public transport, walking around without any particular motive can still yield amazing street shots. When you need to find your way back you can use Google maps (be wary, sometimes Google maps takes a bit of time to show the right location/direction in HK) to find your way to the nearest MTR station, or grab a taxi back to your hotel.

7. Don't overload on lenses. 

You're likely to be walking - a lot, so be selective with which lenses you do bring. For street photography at night, we recommend a relatively fast lens (F1.2 - 1.8) to ensure that you don't need to crank up the ISO or drastically lower the shutter speed to get good results. Using a faster lens can also help to draw attention to the subject and, with the neon signs in Hong Kong, get some beautiful bokeh if that's what you're looking for. If you don't have a faster lens, an F2.8 aperture will also work well, but remember to adjust your settings accordingly - especially in poorly lit situations. If you're venturing out during the day, we recommend a versatile zoom lens, like a 24-105mm F4 or a 24-70mm F2.8. These kinds of lenses give you the option of wider and narrower FOVs to vary your style and points of focus.

Travel light - be selective with your lens choice

8. Get out there - rain or shine.

Different weather yields different results - simple as that. Don't be put off by bad weather, use it to your advantage. In HK, it's all about reflections and umbrellas - use the distinctive local backdrops to create some truly stunning shots. 

9. Be respectful.

As with most places, certain people don't want to be photographed. Hong Kong, unlike other areas of South East Asia doesn't have any overt superstitions or sentiments about being photographed - usually the main issue is privacy. If someone is unhappy being photographed it's best to just move on. You can also use a longer focal length to get certain shots without invading space or privacy, but still, it's best to be mindful and considerate.

Bad weather can still yield amazing results

10. Take your time. 

Patience is a virtue, and that goes doubly for street photography. Sometimes you'll have to line up your shot and wait for the perfect moment for a considerable amount of time before it actually manifests. In Hong Kong there is a steady stream of people in a lot of the most popular locations, so it's likely that you'll be waiting for crowds to disperse more often than you will be waiting for people to turn up. Just take a deep breath and enjoy being in the moment.

Take your time to line up shots properly

There you have it! The Beyond Visuals guide to street photography (in Hong Kong). As always we'd love to know your thoughts and questions, so feel free to get in touch either in the comments below or through the contact form. We'll be sure to get back to you as soon as possible, but for now we're off out to do some more street photography! Thanks for reading and check back here for more tips and tricks to take your photography beyond visuals.

Speak soon!

The Beyond Visuals Team 

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