5d Mark II

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


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

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.

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.

Yellow Telephone

Yellow Telephone
1/2500s,  f/1.4, ISO 800, 50mm

What's attractive about a dirty, old telephone?  Not much, generally.  But somehow this yellow phone found just the right place in the world.  At first, the phone and the yellow caps on the bottles caught my attention.  Then I noticed, the matching blues of the newsstand and the sign in the background.  I first shot the scene without any people any it, but the result struck me as a bit too desolate (and a bit dishonest given how busy the street was).  So I waited around and got a father and his daughter to talk walk into the frame

9/11 Memorial

Flower at September 11 Memorial
1/400s, f/1.2, ISO 1250, 50mm

Last week, I made a brief visit to the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site. The design made me skeptical, mostly because it seemed too somber and not forward-looking enough. Designed by Michael Arad, the center piece of the memorial is a park with two square pools of falling water marking the footprints of the Twin Towers. The water in each pool flows into a square pit--a seemingly bottomless void. Large bronze plates surround the pools and carry the victims' names. The sound of the falling water is surprisingly loud and drowns out a good amount of the city noise.

Experiencing the memorial in person is truly moving. The scale, the darkness, and the roaring sound of the water invoke the destruction and the depth of the tragedy. It's a powerful combination that undoubtedly will lead most people to reflect on the event and what happened in its aftermath. Sadly, that's a depressing exercise, especially when watching night come on during a rigidly cold January afternoon. And it leads back to my concern that the memorial really doesn't look forward or communicate something hopeful about the future. I worry that the solemnness and scale will make it difficult for the memorial to integrate into the city and age well, and I wonder if more light and useable green space could have done a better job of balancing the past, present, and future.

In my photos, I have tried to provide as elegant a portrait of what are, despite the drawbacks, strikingly beautiful structures. Click on below the fold for two more shots, an iPhone panorama of the south pool, and a 360 degree view of the park made with Photosynth.

September 11 Memorial
1/400s, f/1.2, ISO 800, 50mm

Perspective on The National September 11 Memorial
1/640s, f/1.2, ISO 800, 50mm

Thoughts on Black and White

Around Hollywood Road
1/4000 secs, f/1.2, ISO 400, 50mm

I often end up processing my street photography in black and white.  Especially when the composition is centered around a person or is an outright portrait, I find that subjects are likely to be more intense and dramatic in black and white and that the lack of color can make expressions stand out.  Besides, with Hong Kong's colorful streets, black and white processing can make other parts of the scene less distracting.  And when shooting at high ISO values or when the focus is not spot on, black and white tones tend to be more forgiving.  Of course, it's also a subjective call: sometimes a photo just looks better to me without colors.

I have collected a few more recent black and white shots from Hong Kong below the fold.  For a fullscreen slideshow of my collection of black and white Hong Kong photos see this set on flickr.

Around Hollywood Road
1/6400 secs, f/1.2, ISO 400, 50mm

Around Hollywood Road
1/2500 secs, f/1.2, ISO 800, 50mm

1/250s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm

Photo Shoot
1/200s, f/2.8, ISO 1000, 35mm

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

On the Menu
1/500s, f/1.4, ISO 1600, 35mm

1/1250s, f/1.2, ISO 1600, 50mm

On the Streets of Mongkok

On the Streets of Mongkok
1/2000s, f/2.8, ISO 400, 50mm

I've been spending some time lately shooting street scenes using manual focus.  I pre-focus the camera to somewhere around two meters and chose a relatively forgiving aperture (usually something like f/2.8, which still generates a fairly narrow focal plane).  It's great for street photography since it's less obtrusive and allows you to compose the image without raising the camera.

Bird Cage

Bird Cage
1/640s, f/2.8, ISO 400, 50mm

Here's a shot from near the entrance the bird market in Mongkok.  The cage was hanging by itself away from the center of the market, and none of the passersby seemed to give it much attention.  I waited around a bit to get the right amount of people in the shot to balance the composition.  I chose a somewhat narrow aperture of f/2.8, so that the background wouldn't be a complete blur.

Sparks (火花)

Sparks (火花)
1/200s, f/2.0, ISO 200, 135 mm

Shooting with fast primes is a lot of fun.  For this shot, I used Canon's 135mm f/2.0 lens with the lens wide open.  The image quality is just superb and the auto-focus is fast and accurate.  And it's great to have a medium telephoto lens that's fairly light-weight and inconspicuous for street photography.  I used a fairly long shutter speed (1/200), so that the sparks would form light lines rather that just appear like tiny dots.

To Crop or Not to Crop

Gage Street, Hong Kong (结志街) Take II
1/1250s, f/1.2, ISO 100, 50mm
To crop or not to crop: I took this picture a few weeks ago and initially decided to crop it and move the subject to the right of the frame.  I try not crop my images excessively but in this case I felt that the surroundings didn't add much.  And cropping seemed a way to bring the viewer closer to the woman in front.  But when I came across the orignal image yesterday, I realized that I made a mistake.  While there's not much going on around the woman, the surroundings provide more context and reveals more of the street's grit.  The cropped image is below the fold.  What do you think?
Gage Street, Hong Kong (结志街)
1/1250s, f/1.2, ISO 100, 50mm