Roaming Around PoHo and Beyond

8 12 2012

Not far from the hectic crux of the business district, a short stroll away from the booze-fueled din of Lankwai, just down the road from the gastronomic paradise of SoHo, a small little neighbourhood is sprouting up.

It goes by the funky name of PoHo, and has been called the ‘Brooklyn of Hong Kong’.

Tucked above the main streets of Sheung Wan, the PoHo district – with Tai Ping Shan Street as its main artery and the surrounding lanes as offshoots – is, on most days, quietly quaint. You might perhaps chance upon a casual game of street basketball at Blake Garden, but otherwise it is all a hushed repose.

Not today.

With the inaugural PoHo Bazaar in full swing, the neighbourhood swarmed with visitors eager to befriend this funky newcomer. Shops threw open their doors, little stalls served a seemingly endless flow of drinks, hamburgers sizzled on an open grill and soon, a large crowd gathered to explore the nooks and crannies of PoHo.

Here’s a little visual nibble of PoHo – and beyond…

The colourful exteriors of Secret Ingredient, organisers of the PoHo Bazaar:

The colourful exteriors of Secret Ingredient, organisers of the PoHo Bazaar:

The PoHo party. And then the old man.

The PoHo party. And then the old man.

Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences : an Edwardian-style building.

Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences : an Edwardian-style building.

En route to Tai Ping Shan Street, the Island Christian Academy's exterior. Very reminiscent of HK's iconic Red White Blue bags!

En route to Tai Ping Shan Street, the Island Christian Academy’s exterior. Very reminiscent of HK’s iconic Red White Blue bags!

Right outside Secret Ingredient. A sizzling BBQ, comfy, drinks, a great atmosphere.

Right outside Secret Ingredient. A sizzling BBQ, comfy, drinks, a great atmosphere.

An elderly PoHo resident watching the party going on all around him!

An elderly PoHo resident watching the party going on all around him!

A shop in PoHo -- Rat's Cave.

A shop in PoHo — Rat’s Cave.

Floral jamming at Tallensia, anyone?

Floral jamming at Tallensia, anyone?

A Chinese store and an English sign - emblematic of the interweaving of cultures that so defines Hollywood Road.

A Chinese store and an English sign – emblematic of the interweaving of cultures that so defines Hollywood Road.

A locked, dilapidated gate...strangely adorned with umbrella handles and even the neck of a guitar!

A locked, dilapidated gate…strangely adorned with umbrella handles and even the neck of a guitar!

The newly opened Fungus Workshop - handcrafted leather galore!

The newly opened Fungus Workshop – handcrafted leather galore! Full disclosure: I am currently in a ‘handcrafted leather’ craze!

A beautiful building on Square Street.

A beautiful building on Square Street.

Beautiful fabrics for sale, just outside the Konzepp store.

Beautiful fabrics for sale, just outside the Konzepp store.

Yes, another one of those old doors, old post boxes photos.

Yes, another one of those old doors, old post boxes photos. Sorry, I couldn’t help it!

The old.

The old.


Lines – a little further down from PoHo, on Circular Pathway.


Lines. Red, green, brown.

Along the antique street, a shattered ceramic kitty.

Along the antique street, a shattered ceramic kitty.


The Rookie Street Photographer’s Mental Checklist

16 08 2012

I’m fairly new to street photography. I don’t remember when exactly I started consciously taking my camera, roaming the streets and snapping away, but it can’t have more than 12 months. In these twelve months, though, I have gone from being completely freaked out about shooting on the streets to being a little more confident about taking photos of strangers.

It’s been a huge learning curve. Here’s a little mental checklist that I’ve developed. It combines what I’ve learnt from my many street sessions, from blogs and various photo books.

1. Think ‘story’.

The photo needs to tell a story. It needs to offer more than just the immediate visual image. It needs to draw the viewer in on several different levels, first grabbing their attention visually, then probing them to look at the photo for a little longer, to seek out the story within.

Wahhh!! This photo focuses on the subject a lot, but there’s also a bit of a story to it. Why is the baby crying? And why is the mother looking as if she wants to hiss at the baby? What’s going to happen next?

2. Pay attention to background and foreground.

It’s an easy trap to fall into: focusing exclusively on the subject. While this can work on some occasions, such as a street portrait, I’ve found that to make a successful street photo, the background and foreground are just as important as the subject.

I took a photo of these two men were squatting on the sidewalk, who werelooking as if they wanted to take a dump! (They were actually discussing brick replacements) OK, so their odd body positioning is interesting…but there’s nothing more to this photo. No background, no foreground. Boring.

Untitled, 1956. Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photo above is much more interesting. It tells a story. There’s the subject, but there’s also the background, without which this would have been a boring photo of a worker. The middle ground too, of the dog, adds another layer of narrative to the photo. Background, middle ground, foreground, and of course the subject – all are important ingredients.

3. Look for likeness. Seek out similarity.

Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “What reinforces the content of a photograph is the sense of rhythm – the relationship between shapes and values.” Photos with nuanced relationships and unexpected coincidences embedded within them add another layer to the viewer’s experience. Ernst Hass noted, “The best pictures differentiate themselves by nuances…a tiny relationship – either a harmony or a disharmony – that creates a picture.”

Porte d’ Aubervilliers, 1932. Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Can you spot the ‘relationship’ in the photo above? Jumping right out at the viewer is the relationship between the man and his silhouette. Looking closer, you’ll also notice the close resemblance between the ballerina on the poster in the background, and the leaping motion of the man.

Women outside a mosque, Kunduz, 2003. Steve McCurry.

The ‘relationships’ aren’t limited to physical shapes, either. Steve McCurry, in his photo above,  captures the subtle interplay of color and form. As the two women walk past the window of the mosque, two men are seen praying inside. McCurry snaps the shutter at exactly the right moment: the woman in blue is directly in line with the man in blue, and the woman in white is directly in line with the man in white. What’s the implication of such a photo? The photo has done the initial prompting, and the viewer can draw their own conclusions.

Keep calm and keep walking. I’ve tried to establish links and relationships in this photo, but of course, this photo is a very mediocre stab at being nuanced and subtle!

4. Hunting is good. Creating is even better.

Often I find myself roaming ceaselessly on the streets, hunting for that decisive moment that would ‘make’ the photo. Sometimes, though, I have to remind myself that hunting is a bit of a passive activity – there’s too much luck involved, even though a good eye is of course also important. Creating, instead of hunting, might be the better, more active alternative. Instead of hunting for the perfect moment, try to wait and create it.

5. D is for Detail.

Untitled, 1969. Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Sometimes, it’s the tiniest of details that brings a photo to life. The dog, staring up at the kissing couple, adds a whole new dimension to the photo. I have to constantly remind myself to look out for details: dogs, expressions, shadows, road signs…little things that spice up the photo.

Behind the church of Saint-Sulpice, 1932. Henri Cartier-Bresson.

I love this photo. It gets me cracking every time I see it. It could probably fall under the heading of  ‘Look for likeness. Seek out similarity’ as well, but I’ve put it here because of Cartier-Bresson’s meticulous attention to detail here. He could well have just focused on the two dogs having sex, but instead he noticed the detail of the two other dogs in the lower corner, and included them in the photo.

6. D is for Diagonals.

You’ve probably heard of the rule of thirds. Well, there’s also diagonals as well. In fact, I think diagonals are just as, if not more important, than the rule of thirds. Adam Marelli goes into a lot more detail in his wonderful post here.

Untitled, 1953. Henri Cartier-Bresson. Notice how the photo is composed along the diagonal lines.

7. Don’t hesitate.

All too often, I see someone I desperately want to take a photo of, and yet am freaked out by the idea of them noticing me…There’s not a lot I can do about this, really, apart from practicing relentlessly to overcome this illogical fear!

Have you got a little mental checklist of your own? Is there anything I should add? Please leave your ideas in the comments below! 


The Photographer’s Vision: Understanding and Appreciating Great Photography by Michael Freeman
Henri Cartier-Bresson: À Propos de Paris by Henri Cartier-Bresson
In the Shadow of Mountains by Steve McCurry

Together Now…

25 07 2012

A quick post today.

As the fiery wrath of Typhoon Vincente subsided, I quickly grabbed my camera and headed out to do a short photowalk around Causeway Bay and Wanchai. A faint drizzle made the photographing a little cumbersome: one hand on the umbrella, one hand on the camera, all the while trying not to get the camera wet and avoiding the pink tint which my umbrella was casting on close-up subjects.

Finally, I managed to land one satisfactory shot on a little side lane in Wanchai. This old couple was walking towards me…I was about to take a hip shot, and yet missed the moment, perhaps too apprehensive of how they would respond to the loud ‘clack’ of my shutter in this eerily quiet alleyway.

D’oh! They walked past me, and all that was in view were their boring backsides. It seemed as if I had missed the moment.

Slightly dejected, I took the camera up to my eye anyway, and snapped a shot. I liked it. It seems like I hadn’t missed the moment after all!

Together Now…

Running, Walking & Getting Lost to Find Venice

22 07 2012

This is the first in a series of articles about my recent trip to Italy. Enjoy!

My favourite photo from Venice: Hierarchy?

Venice: supposedly the most romantic city in the world.

I’m not much of a romantic, but I can sure tell you another thing about Venice: it’s an absolute nightmare to navigate! Forget the tourist maps – they won’t help you much. You’ll spend so long squinting at those darned blindingly miniscule alley names that by the time you’ve figured out where you are, it’s probably time to go home. And those yellow street signs, forever pointing you to San Marco and the Rialto? Sometimes they work, but I’m convinced that more often than not, they’re conspiring against all of us tourists, pointing us around in endless circles, laughing at us while we wander around like headless chickens, hopelessly lost.

Ditch the map. Go for a run.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Venice. But to really get a taste of this lagoon city, I decided to ditch the map, un-bury my face from all guidebooks, and just go wherever my running shoes took me. After all, what is it really that we want to take from our travels? Memories, sure, but what are memories? The view of Venice from the lagoon, the tourist-filled Piazza San Marco, the gondolas and their oarsmen (which, perhaps a little harshly, AA Gill describe as “unsmiling…a cross between a pork butcher and a French mime”) – all these are fine memorable views, but also views that every other tourist will see, whether personally or on postcards. What I want to take from my travels are more than just memories of these mass-produced views. I want to make make these memories mine, to attach to the views my own emotions.

This is what I will remember.

I will remember the endless winding narrow alleyways and the ubiquitious presence of calm waters; I will remember the way one emerges from a claustrophobic alley, hemmed in by buildings on both sides, out into a majestic square, and likewise retreat from the buzz of San Marco into one of the many quiet streets. I will also remember the soothing sun rays at dawn and at dusk, caressing the brick walls and cobblestones with its slanting, casting walls a vivid red, leaving a slither of gold here and there.

Beware the tourist traps!  

There is also, of course, the less beautiful side of Venice: the hordes of tourists everywhere. It’s ironic that I should say this, because as a tourist myself I’m part of the very horde that I so despise. The main tourist traps are Venice at its worst: tacky restaurants with menu turistico‘s in seven different languages, displayed together with unflattering photos of their food taken with harsh and direct flash; store after store selling you I Love Venice baseball caps, t-shirts with cliched memes, ‘Not-Made-In-China’ masks and other crappy touristy paraphernalia.

Don’t just ‘do’ Venice. Make it yours.

How was I to go about touring Venice, avoiding the tourist traps and unearthing the city’s inner beauty? Ditch the maps, chuck out the guidebooks, avoid the crowds. In short, eschew the conventional Venetian tourist checklist for something more spontaneous, self-directed and self-created. I would walk wherever my walking shoes escorted me, run wherever my running shoes took me, and explore wherever the geocaches pointed me! I had my qualms about this at first; after all, how can you say you have ‘done’ Venice until all the big name, ‘must-see’ attractions have been ticked off? This was a little quandary in which I found myself, but I also quickly found reconciliation in thinking that this was the real way to journey, the real way to create lasting, personal, emotionally rich memories.

So, here are a few of my favourite photos from Venice, taken during my map-free runs and walks. You can also view them on my Flickr page here.

Also, some questions to consider – I would love to hear your responses!

Have you been to Venice? Some say that you either hate it or love it. What did you think of it?

What are your thoughts about travel? Why do we travel?  What is the purpose of travel?

Venetian Archways

A Narrow Lane in Venice

Peekaboo! Hide and Seek in Venice?

Made in Venice…not China!

A Venetian Street

View From A Hidden Street

Venice at Dusk

A Street Cleaner in Venice

Along the Venetian Shore

Piazza San Marco, Venice…early in the morning, without the tourists!

Ponte dell’ Accademia, Venice

If they can run, so can I.

25 04 2012

What an experience.

Eye-opening, hugely motivational and quite simply, amazing – such was the All China Junior Athletics Championships 2012. Now as I try to adjust back to study-leave life at school, my mind is not on my upcoming exams, but rather the track that I raced on, the elite runners whom I saw, the 11 minutes and 55 seconds that I ran.

My event was the 3000m steeplechase, and this was my second timer ever to run it. I had first run the steeplechase only a few weeks back, clocking a time of 12:12. Coming to the All China Junior Athletics Championships, my mindset had been to run my own race, against myself. Realistically, there was no way that I would be able to compete with the mainland Chinese athletes – they simply much more experience. My goal, therefore, was to break the 12 minute mark. And I did!

The Changzhou Olympic Sports Stadium. Pretty fancy.

My water hurdles were atrocious, my pacing fluctuated wildly (fastest lap was 87 seconds, slowest lap was 99.99), I was quite nearly lapped by the winner, and I finished 11th out of the 12 runners. Nevertheless I was thrilled with my result – I had slashed 17 seconds off my previous time and set a new Hong Kong Junior Record.

What was also very exciting was seeing the elite Chinese athletes in action. Prior to this race, mainland Chinese athletes to me had always just been an abstract blur in the distance – a standard too high to even consider trying to reach. Not any more. Actually seeing them run and racing together with them has eliminated that psychological barrier, and has served as a reminder that they too are young female Chinese runners like me.

And if they can run that fast, so can I.

That, I think, is what I’m taking away from this race. If those girls can run a 3000m steeplechase in 10:19, there’s nothing to stop me from doing the same. All I have to do is train hard and train smart. I’ve completed the challenge of representing HK and running my first ever national-level race. The next challenge now is running the steeplechase in 11:30…and who knows, maybe even 11:00!

Some of my fellow HK teammates, along with the super-cool Coach Paul.

Doing a bit of history revision in my hotel room.

A bit of exploring

In between training and racing, I went out exploring the streets of Changzhou. Armed with my iPhone (I had been too lazy to lug my DSLR to China), I finally gave iPhoneography a proper try. Here are some of my favourites shots.

Woof!! As I bent down to snap a photo of this little puppy, he flinched and barked at me!

This lady was just casually knitting on the street.

Who's da boss?

Mmm...street food. This was a kind of crepe/pancake, with an egg cracked over it and garnished with pickles, spring onions, parsley, gravy and a small fried cracker.

Close up of the crepe/pancake in the making.

Sesame oven baked puff pastries. Yum.

Tai O: Photographing the Venice of Hong Kong

26 03 2012

Tai O, the quaint little fishing village at the tip of Lantau Island, is often called the Venice of Hong Kong – and not without good reason. Although weekends bring hoards of tourists to the village, some careful poking around with a camera will reveal the rich character of the area.

Smartphone Photography: A Darkroom In Your Pocket

17 02 2012

As a well known photography adage goes, the best camera is the one that’s with you. And with skyrocketing  smartphone usage, many of us have come to realise the accessibility, sociability and endless possibilities of smartphone photography.

Here are some tips I picked up from five of Hong Kong’s best smartphone-photographers at last night’s “Getting Social With Smartphone Photography” panel.





1. Every little moment can be awesomised.

by @mochachocolatarita

We might not notice it, but no matter where we are, fascinating stories and captivating moments abound.

Even if something appears to be tediously mediocre, what photographers have to remember is that every little moment can be awesomised. There’s always a story, no matter how dull it seems. (Thanks to panelist Rita Suttarno for this timeless tip).


2. The iPhone puts a darkroom in your pocket.

by @twheat

And that’s why you should take a lot of photos and let your photographic passions run wild. Tyson Wheatley, a CNN editor by profession but really an iPhoneography/Instagram-crazy photographer, has taken so many photos on his iPhone over the past year that he now sees the world “through filters”. For him, iPhoneography has brought the city of Hong Kong alive and allowed him to discover the hidden beauties of this bustling city. Quite simply, he says, “It’s changed my life”. So, go take a lot of photos, get close to your subject,  experiment with apps – and most importantly, take advantage of your own pocket sized darkroom!




3. iPhone photography is NOT fake.

There are some who may think that iPhone photography is not ‘real photography’ (whatever that means), but Lester Lim certainly disagrees. What is ‘real photography’ anyway – aren’t all photos, to strip them to the bare minimum, a manipulation of light?

I was interested to see what Tyson, coming from a journalistic background as a CNN editor, thought of the impact of smartphone photography on citizen journalism. Would the heavy use of filters and editing distort the transparency and democratic nature of citizen journalism? “I suppose yes. But editing of images is not new, and the key for news organisations is to be transparent in the vetting process”.

4. Have patience to capture the moment.

Jason Tse wants you to tell a story within the confines of that little photographic frame. Photography, to him, is capturing

by @jasonbonvivant

something that you want to express, and often, patience is the prime ingredient. He willingly puts life on hold just to get the perfect photo, frequently missing tram stops to capture, create and express!

5. Capture the details.

Vilja Sormunen(the only non-iPhone photographer on the panel), reminds us to look out for details, and use your smartphone

camera as an extension of your memory. With so much information flowing in and out every single second, this tip will surely come in useful for years to come.