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

On the Move

Yarn + Tree (iPhone) 

I've had to put my blogging on a brief hiatus. I moved to Beijing a few weeks ago and have yet to settle on a reliable VPN (blogger, which powers this site, is blocked in China). Until regular programing continues, you can keep up with my photography on my flickr stream. I've also begun using Instagram, so check out my stream there as well.

The instagram above is from an art installation at the 798 Art Zone in Beijing. It's a tree wrapped in red yarn and it's a pretty stunning site. Once spring comes around, I want to check how the tree looks with leaves on it.

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

2011 Highlights

Halong Bay (下龍灣)
1/80s, f/13.0, ISO 400, 27mm (HDR)

It's a little late for a year-in-review post, I know.  But blogger threw away my draft a few weeks ago and since adding multiple flickr shots to blogger posts is a real pain, I kept pushing it off (maybe it's time for a better a CMS in 2012).  You can view a fullscreen slideshow here (opens in a new window) or see the collection below the fold.  I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Ducks (橡皮小鴨)
1/800s, f/5.6, ISO 640, 150mm

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

Late Night Dinner (explored)
1/500s, f/1.2, ISO 1600, 50mm

Broken Rose
1/800s, f/1.2, ISO 1600, 50mm

Steve Martin at the Highline Ballroom (史提夫·馬丁)
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 4000, 148mm

Bike on Bleecker
1/2000s, f/1.4, ISO 100, 85mm

Giant Puppet Performance in Sheung Wan
1/1250s, f/1.2, ISO 100, 50mm

Cellist in the Park
1/400s, f/1.2, ISO 1600, 85mm

Above Union Square (联合广场)
1/100s, f/2.8, ISO 3200, 115mm

1/200s, f/6.3, ISO 1600, 50mm

Josh Ritter at Terminal 5
1/200s, f/2.8, ISO 5000, 70mm

Long Biên Railway Station
1/320s, f/7.1, ISO 1600, 24mm (HDR)

On the B
1/250s, f/1.7, ISO 1600, 20mm

Hyde Park Drive-In Theater
1/640s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 24mm

Sunset on Halong Bay
1/320s, f/14.0, ISO 400, 24mm (HDR)

If you want to view my entire collection of photos from 2011 in all their fullscreen glory (and don't know what to do with your time), here's a slideshow.

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

Around Hollywood Road (荷李活道)

Hollywood Road at Night (荷李活道) (Explored)
4s, f/13.0, ISO 400, 14 mm

In Hong Kong, I live in the neighborhood of Soho, short for south of Hollywood Street.  The neighborhood is on a dramatic hillside and is home to some truly great streets.  It's also an area frequented by expats.  There are lots of western restaurants and bars around and a number of fancy condo buildings and serviced apartments.  But unlike other parts of Hong Kong, it's also an incredibly diverse neighborhood.  Just down from Hollywood Road, there is a vibrant meats and vegetable market.  Locals live, work, and shop here and walking these colorful streets is a nice contrast to the sterile, mega malls in Central (Hong Kong Island's downtown, of sorts).  I like the that fact that the neighborhood gives me a chance to interact with some people I would rarely encounter if I lived in a true expat enclave--even if that interaction is pretty limited (I'm embarrassed to say that I'm still struggling with the handful of Cantonese phrases I've try to teach myself).

Having such a colorful neighborhood at my doorstep is, of course, a treat for a photographer.  And there is no shortage of great street scenes to photograph.  Many of the vendors are not keen to be photographed, and I generally respect that or ask before I shoot if someone seems uncomfortable.  On the other hand, street photography is about capturing the life on the street as it happens rather than a staged version of it.  So unless someone affirmatively makes clear they don't want to get photographed, I simply take my presence and raised camera as sufficient notice.

Included in this post are some recent shots from around Hollywood Road.  They are taken with a number of different lenses, including the Canon 14mm f/2.8 L lens.  I few weeks ago, I rented this super wide angle lens, which provides more than 110 degree field of view.  The extreme wide-angle made for a bit of a learning curve but once I got the hang of it, it was a very useful lens for pulling in a lot of street life.

Continue below the fold for more shots.

Bananas for Sale (Explored)
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 14mm

1/200s, f/6.3, ISO 1600, 50mm

Buying Strawberries
1/1000s, f/1.6, ISO 400, 50mm

Behind the Counter
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 400, 14mm

Closing Time
1/125s, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 14mm

1/1250s, f/1.4, ISO 400, 50mm