With or Without

1/2000s, f/7.1, ISO 400, 28mm

I went for a quick walk at the Summer Palace in the late afternoon last week.  The night before, an unseasonably late snowstorm had covered Beijing in a thick lawyer of snow.  By the afternoon, most of the snow was gone and with blue skies over the city, the Summer Palace was not a bad place to be with a camera.

The light was a real treat.  On the way up Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan), I came across this hallway where where the late afternoon sun was creating some beautiful long shadows.  With few people around I was able to capture the scene pretty well.  Still, I wish I had taken a wider lens along, so I could have gotten some more windows inside the frame.

Pretty happy with the final result, I still can't decide if it works better with the silhouette of the man passing through the door (above) or the more deserted look with the view of the mountains in the distance (below the fold).  I suppose, they are really two different compositions but ultimately I feel like the person adds more of a story to the picture.  Thoughts?

Where the Light Gets In
1/3200 secs, f/7.1, ISO 400, 24mm

Evening Photo Walk in Shanghai

The Bund at Night
10s, f/18.0, ISO 200, 48mm

I went to Shanghai for a short trip last week. I only got to squeeze in a short walk with my camera but luckily the timing was good.  I got in on the train from Beijing late in the afternoon and arrived to blue skies and warm spring temperatures.  The late afternoon light was beautiful and after walking around the area by People's Square, I made my way down to see the sunset and watch the skyline lights turn on  by the Bund.

It's hard not to be struck by Shanghai's immense contrasts.  From the uber-modern, rapidly changing Pudong skyline and the neon signs on Nanjing Road to narrow lanes and night markets, the old and new exist seemingly effortlessly side by side.  Read on to see some shots from around the Bund and People's Square.

News Reader
1/80s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50mm

Late Afternoon on Ninghai Lu, Shanghai
1/640s, f/5.0, ISO 800, 27mm

Early 2013 Pudong Skyline
1/400s (bracketed HDR), f/6.3, ISO 800, 24mm

Early 2013 Pudong Skyline at Night
0.3s, f/5.6, ISO 400, 24mm

Around People's Square
1/30s, f/1.4, ISO 3200, 50mm

Shanghai Rooftops
0.8s (bracketed HDR), f/2.2, ISO 800, 50mm

Shanghai Night Market
1/320s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50mm

1/125s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 50 mm

Waibaidu Bridge (外白渡桥)
1/4s, f/7.1, ISO 400, 24mm

Tall, Taller, Tallest
1/125s, f/4.0, ISO 800, 24mm

Behind Qianmen (前门)

Behind Qianmen (前门)
1/60s, f/1.8, ISO 3200, 50mm

Qianmen sits on the south end of Qiananmen Square.  Also known by it's official name, Zhengyangmen, it was once part of the Beijing's city wall (Qianmen means front gate).  Today, the city wall is long gone but the gate remains.  It's one of the landmarks of the city and a popular tourist spot.  Despite being in the middle of the Beijing, the neighborhood around Qianmen is home to several hutongs and traditional courtyard homes.  Walking around the hutongs' narrow streets, it's hard to believe that you're just a few blocks away from the political and cultural center of Beijing (and, indeed, of China).

I spent some times getting lost in the neighborhood a few weeks ago.  Continue below the fold for shots of Qianmen and Tiananmen.

Double Quack
1/400s, f/2.2, ISO 200, 50mm

Qianmen (前门)
1/2000s, f/4.5, ISO 400, 28mm

Night at Qiananmen
10s, f/18.0, ISO 200, 32mm


30s, f/4.0, ISO 1000, 24mm

It had been a while since I had experimented with shooting the night sky.  I've always been fascinated with astronomy.  I worked at a planetarium in high school and recall how frustrating taking pictures of stars would be with a film camera.  With the instant feedback of a digital camera, it's a lot easier to get a decent photo of the night sky without investing a lot of time in sorting out the right exposure.  Trial and error really go a long way here.

I took these two shots on a cold January night near Hornbæk in Denmark.  Hornbæk is about an hour north of Copenhagen and near the water.  It's a popular spot for summer houses but in the winter time it's pretty quiet.  And there is very little light at night.  On a clear, cold winter night, the night sky is absolutely breathtaking.  The first shot is a 30 second exposure, featuring most of the Orion constellation.  Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky is also visible on the left side behind the trees (or try following Orion's belt to the left).  In the second shot below, the exposure is about half an hour long.  It captures the stars as they appear to rotate around the North Star (of course the stars don't really move but we/Earth does).

33m, f/4.0, ISO 800, 25mm

Behind Every Single Window

Copenhagen Courtyard
2s, f/4.0, ISO 800, 24mm

Yesterday I got the chance to check out a rooftop in the Nyboder neighborhood in central Copenhagen.  What a treat.  I'm always excited at the chance of getting to the top of buildings--especially in the center of a city.  The views usually reveal something interesting that you won't experience from just walking the streets.   This time I got to see a multicolored, magnificently-lit courtyard.  A sort of behind-the-scenes-look.  And it got me thinking of Dan Turèll's old poem "Behind Every Single Window" (”Bag hvert eneste vindue").  Here's an excerpt:

"…You walk down through a long street
which you know or maybe don't know
in your own city or an unknown one
and you raise your eyes and look at those thousands
of shining lit-up windows
and you know that behind every single window people live
and that simple thought everytime is so new and strange"
behind every single window people live
people with real live problems
as concrete as a fist in the kisser
behind every single window men and women are breathing
easy or with trouble
each in his own rhythm..."

Dan Turèll, (1979) 

Poem for a Saturday

Fields of Gold
1/160s (bracketed HDR), f/5.6, ISO 800, 30mm


We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going?
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Czeslaw Milosz (1936)


Slivsø (Sliv Lake, Denmark)
1/640s (bracketed HDR), f/8.0, ISO 400, 24mm

Here's a shot from Slivsø (Sliv Lake) near Haderslev in Denmark.  The lake is one of the largest in southern Denmark but was drained and used for farm land for almost half a century.  It's a beautiful spot any time of the year but it feels particularly peaceful in the winter.  I used moderate HDR processing to capture the details in the sky.

At the Wet Market

At the Wet Market
1/640s, f/1.8, ISO 800, 50mm

I happened to walk past the wet market around Graham Street near Central in Hong Kong today.  It was a rainy, damp day, and luckily I had my camera along.  It was late in the afternoon, so the market was busy and the light great.

At the Wet Market
1/800s, f/1.6, ISO 800, 50mm

More shots below the fold.

At the Wet Market
1/1600s, f/1.8, ISO 800, 50mm

At the Wet Market
1/250s, f/1.2, ISO 800, 50mm

At the Wet Market
1/400s, f/1.8, ISO 800, 50mm

At the Wet Market
1/1000s, f/1.6, ISO 800, 50mm

At the Wet Market
1/500s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 50mm

At the Wet Market
1/500s, f/1.2, ISO 800, 50mm


Posing at Beida

1/500s (bracketed) f/4.0, ISO 800, 50mm

I don't like cold weather one bit.  But spending another fall in Hong Kong, I've realised how much I miss the changing of the seasons.  The weather in Hong Kong cools down this time of year but fall and winter temperatures are very mild.  I like how refreshingly crisp fall weather can be--especially after a hot summer.  It was therefor a welcome change when I travelled to Beijing this weekend.  The sky (for the most part) seemed almost an impossibly clear blue and the fall foliage was stunning.  I took a walk around the Beida campus but only had a 50mm lens with me.  A wider lens would no doubt have been better suited to take in the full beauty of the landscape...

1/800s, f/1.6, ISO 100, 50mm

Continue below the fold for a few more shots

Student at Work
1/800s, f/1.6, ISO 100, 50mm

Weiming Lake
1/125s (bracketed) f/5.0, ISO 200, 50mm

Weiming Lake
1/500s (bracketed) f/4.5, ISO 200, 50mm

New York, New York

Waiting at West 4th (等待地铁)

I am submitting some of my NYC shots for a street photography exhibition at the South Street Seaport Museum this year. Amateur and professional photographers are invited to submit up to 12 images. Selecting the shots was a difficult job. Almost all my New York street shots are well over a year old, and I hadn't looked at them in a while. Reviewing my own work was painful. I felt disappointed with a lot of my shots... many of them felt too much like snapshots that failed at telling stories or communicating something interesting about New York and city life.

Most of the photos I ended up with are from the subway. My hope is that they together manage to give some insight into what it feels like to be on (and under) the streets of New York.

Times Square Stop

Read on to see the entire submission.

On the B

Waiting and Reading at 34th Street

Conductor Portrait: Leaving Wall Street

Even the Mighty Must Wait

Conductor At Grand Central (列車長)

End of the Day

Conductor at 42nd

Midtown Lunch Crowd

Waiting on Charles Lane

End of the Night

Where to?

Where to? (HDR)
1/60s (bracketed HDR), f/8, ISO 800, 24mm

I will have more blog posts coming soon.  In the meantime, here's a shot from this summer.  I've tried to go easy on the HDR processing on this one but wanted to bring out a little more detail in the shadows.  The highway is in the southern part of Denmark near my parents' farm.

Around the CCTV Headquarters

CCTV Tower
1/60s (bracketed HDR), f/7.1, ISO 800, 24mm

This week, when the smog loosened its grip on Beijing for a few days, I went to get some shots of the new CCTV Headquarters. The building was completed earlier this year and dominates the skyline of Beijing's Central Business District. The futuristic design features two leg-like towers leaning against each other, linked on top by a perpendicular extension. It occupies a giant block between the Guomao and Jintaixizhao subway stops, and inside there some sort of sloped plaza between the building's two legs.

The building is no doubt a bold and remarkable structure, though I'm not sure I like its bombastic presence. But at least it's not another bland, characterless skyscraper like those popping up around Beijing with predictable regularity. A disappointing feature of the building is its total lack of integration with nearby streets. The complex is set back far from the street and surrounding by a two-meter high fence (two of the adjacent streets are completely blacked off). Even if the inside is opened to the public some day, nothing seem to be designed to invite foot traffic, and access would be limited to one or two entrances.

Locals haven't been impressed, either, by the way, nicknaming it Big Boxer Shorts (大裤衩).

As for the shots, I used HDR processing on most of them.  This allowed me to bring out more details in the sky and the shadows and at the same time give the shots a slightly more space-age feel to match the look of the building.

More shots below the fold.

In Front of the Gates of the CCTV Tower
1/640s, f/2.8, ISO 2500, 46mm

CCTV Tower
+ 1/400s (bracketed HDR) f/3.5, ISO 2500, 24mm

Behind the CCTV Tower
0.4s (bracketed HDR), f/5.0, ISO 1600, 30mm

CCTV Tower
1/8s (bracketed HDR), f/6.3, ISO 1600, 24mm

In a Crowded Place

Dinner in Black and White
1/500s, f/1.2, ISO 1600, 50mm

This month, I am back in Hong Kong for a few weeks.  I've missed the city's grit, its narrow streets, its beat.  Beijing is such a sprawling city, and I still haven't figured out what to make of it.  As a result, I'm finding it more difficult to capture and portray Beijing adequately in my photos. But Hong Kong is different. Hopefully, I will be able to get in some shots this weekend.  (As an aside, I've been meaning to do fewer close-ups and bring in more of the surroundings in my street shots--more on that some other time.)

Being back here, I thought it would be a good time to revisit a brief photo essay I wrote for the spectacular Danish photo magazine, Fotorama (and turn it into English).  So without further ado...

I used to live in Hong Kong's Soho neigbohoord.  I was one of thousands who each day commute to work on a series of escalators.  Endless streams of lawyers, nannies, and tourists gather on a conveyer belt that leads to Hong Kong's financial center.  Here, more commuters join as jam-packed busses and underground trains let out floods of people into the city' streets.

Hong Kong's claustrophobic geography has forced the city to expand vertically.  With some 7,500 high-rise buildings, it's the world's tallest city.  And the Mong Kok neighborhood is the most densely populated on the planet.  It's a crowded place.

Despite the intense density, Hong Kong offers its citizens almost total anonymity. The physical closeness does not create any expectations among Hong Kongers that they relate to each other.  In fact, it's as if the crowds and the tight physical spaces allow people to create their own personal space.

When I take pictures in Hong Kong, I am often drawn to the moments where people are able to create their own spaces among the crowds--in particular the times when it's not clear if someone wants to be alone or if its the environment that forces the loneliness.  Are these people fighting loneliness or the crowds?  And then I wonder how many might wonder the same thing about me.

More pictures below the fold.

Wellington Street (威靈頓街)
1/640s, f/2.5, ISO 400, 50mm

Street Reader
1/640s, f/1.4, ISO 800, 35mm

Gage Street, Hong Kong (结志街) Take II (Explored)
1/1250s, f/1.2, ISO 100, 50mm

Soho at Noon
1/8000 secs, f/1.2, ISO 200, 50mm

Queen's Road West at Night
1/320s, f/1.2, ISO 4000, 50 mm

Island Line (港島綫)

Walking Alone


Afternoon Nap

Around Hollywood Road

Photo Shoot


On the Streets of Mongkok

Broken Rose

Thoughts on Cats and Life

Cat on the Stairs (Explored)
1/4000 secs, f/1.2, ISO 400, 50mm

When I saw this guy in Hong Kong last week, I was reminded of Piet Hein's grook:
Little cat, little cat,
walking so alone;
tell me whose cat are you
– I’m damned well my own
Hong Kong is full of cats. Unfazed by the crowds, they stroll around in the hustle and bustle of this mega city's busy streets. Somehow they find a way to go about their feline business in their usual carefree way--eating, napping, pondering life and the other important things cats do. No matter they are in the middle of one of the world's financial centers, they live like most other cats.  City cats, country cats, it's all the same.  Their two-legged neighbors could probably take some lessons from this way of life.