#116. 24 hours in High-Kontrast Hong-Kong

By pascaljappy | News

Aug 17

On my way and back to a from Western Australia last Christmas, I had the opportunity to stay 12 hours in HK. Each way. Rather than the usual 3 hour wait in yet another airport, I felt the longer stay might provide a chance for a quick discovery of an exotic city. And why not point my NEX-5n at Kai Wong to give him a stroke … 😉

A grounded Cathay Pacific flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Hong Kong. Sony NEX-5n & Zeiss ZM Biogon 25mm

Fly for me, Baby

Note: As usual, pictures look much nicer if you click on them!

We were off to a slightly difficult start as the plane was a little bit broken. Some piece of kit the pilot judged important enough to delay the flight – and my picture making – for had fallen out of an engine during the flight in, and we were stuck in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport for a few more hours than initially expected. What was pretty remarkable is that the mechanics were able to order spare parts from Boeing, receive them, repair and test in 7 hours. Kudos guys. CDG is officially the most unpleasant airport this side of Mos Eisley, but it was interesting and impressive to watch men at work perform their miracle so efficiently.

The Hong-Kong waterfront walk avenue of the stars

Ferry and Waterfront

After a good night’s sleep on board (yes, it happens ;)) and a swift train ride into town, we cought the first glimpses of a city henceforth only seen in pictures when Lizzie the second returned it to its former owners and in atypical camera reviews by said Kai.

One of his most memorable episodes for me was his Lecia M9 vs Fuji X-100 debate along the waterfront. The X100 had captured my imagination enough to start my hunt for a mirrorless and to lose sleep like a kid for a few days (and what a disappointment the big brother X-Pro1 proved to be). The location, with is blend of water, buildings exotic people and incredible light had pushed HK right to the top of my destination wish list. It was in this episode I think Kai also made some of his best pictures. The guy is a very good photographer but rarely seems to push his talent during his reviews.

I was really happy to make it to the Avenue of the Stars waterfront and grab a few pictures for myself. The light was soooo flat on that day that I really had to push all the contrast sliders to their max, dodge, burn and feather like mad to get something vaguely like what I wanted (waterfront picture above).

Arcades along the waterfront in Hong-Kong, in the footsteps of Kai Wong

In the footsteps of Kai

Hong-Kong is an incredible place for photographers for three main reasons:

  1. Transportation is very good. With no prior knowledge of the language or place, we easily found our way to all the places on our list.
  2. The light is very pleasant. Bright but diffuse during the day, moody in the evenings and neon crazy at night.
  3. There’s just so much to see … Temples, buildings, landscapes, people, you name it.
Incense smoke, 10000 Buddha Temple Hong-Kong. SOny NEX-5n & Voigtlander Colour-Skopar 35mm II

No Smoking

Above is a typical scene in most temples where incense burns under the surveillance of divinities sending out the prayers of pilgrims and visitors. It was made with the diminutive – and lovely – Voigtlander Color-Skopar II 35mm f/2.5 and just shows how this lens renders with that slightly understated sharp but creamy smooth look. I didn’t try to reduce depth of field, which gives this picture its slightly jumbled field, but you can still feel how gently out of focus areas fade away. Voigltander is an underrated brand. Their lenses are gorgeous and should never be considered only from the point of view of technical specs.

A viw over Hong Kong from the 10000 Buddhas temple. Sony NEX-5n & Biogon ZM 25/2.8

Outside the temple

Compare this with the mega-etched rendering of the ruthlessly sharp Zeiss Biogon 25 in this view of the city from the vantage point of the 10,000 Buddhas Temple (the HDR tone mapping doesn’t help ;)). But that sharpness and high micro-contrast certainly help in the very bright and diffuse light. A poor quality kit-zoom would have both buried the shadows and made the highlights very mucky here. The NEX-5n’s fantastic sensor and great lenses were really a huge help in bringing back useable images. My only post-processing here was a slight toning down of clarity in LightRoom.

The same light greeted us atop The Peak. We took the crazy (fun) 45° tram on the way up and deliberately lost ourselves through park and buildings all the way down to the city center. As night gradually fell, so did the overall contrast and as the tall buildings caught the warm colours of the falling sun, they did so with so much subtlety and restraint that cellphone pictures look almost totally blue-gray. Again, kudos to the NEX-5n and great glass (mostly my beloved Biogon 25) for extracting all that was there to extract.

Bamboo scaffolding against the skyline of Hong-Kong in the setting sun. Sony NEX-5n and Zeiss Biogon 25

Bamboo with a view

As seen in this picture, bamboo scaffolding is everywhere. From a simple shop front facelift to a skyscraper, bamboos are assembled by very skilled – and brave – workers into works of art that fascinated me and which, to my eyes, best represent the incredible contrast between modern and traditional, rich and poor, calm and busy … to be found in HK. Here are a few more examples of bamboos being used in the most mundane or extraordinary situations.

Bamboo scaffolding in Hong-Kong. Sony NEX-5n & Zeiss ZM Biogon 25mm f/2.8


Scaffolding made of bamboo in Hong Kong. Zeiss Biogon 25mm on a Sony NEX-5n camera


A street in the ancient part of Hong Kong is coevered with bamboo scaffolds. NEX-5n & Biogon 25


Of course, no Hong-Kong travelogue would be complete without a few temples. So here are some more pictures of the multiple ones you will find dotting the city.

Colourful incense spirals burning in a temple in Hong Kong


The walled city was the most immediately beautiful we managed to visit during our very short stay. There are probably countless less touristy places and more exotic temples in HK, but it is very beautiful. Although very young, the park has a fascinating history. Several centuries ago, several temples were build in this location, then destroyed and replaced by housing.

A child reclines over a birdge in the walled city of Hong Kong. Sony NEX-5n. Zeiss ZM 25/2.8 Biogon.

Bridge of Serenity ?

When the British extended their grip over Hong-Kong to new territories through the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898, that part of the territory was excluded. After WWII, thousands of squatters occupied the site and this inner city was ruled by crime organizations, including the famous Triads. Twenty years later, massive construction transformed it into a dense labyrinth of 10 to 14 storeys buildings and tiny alleys that made Blade Runner sets seem like the Champs Elysees.

Stone statues of animal deities in the Walled City of Hong Kong. Sony NEX 5n and Zeiss ZM 25mm f/2.8 Biogon

Walled City Guardians

Hundreds of Chinese police raids helped rid the city of its drug dealing and violent crime history but it remained a place where the law had very little authority. At some point in the 70’s, over 30,000 people called home this urban slum twice the size of a football pitch until a vastly unpopular and difficult 4 year eviction process was set up to destroy the unsafe buildings and restore the park in its original configuration. The final 2 minutes of this video takes you for a walk through the city before its destruction. And here’s a great painting of one of the streets by Jared Shear. What a place it must have been!

The rounded entrance to Hong Kong's Walled City. Zeiss Biogon 25 on NEX-5n

Into the Walled City

Still, I can’t help feel that today’s HK temples are the business buildings and luxury malls. And that Hong Kong’s most powerful natural force is the night. I’ll take you through a tour of these in the second part of this visit.

Please leave any comments or extra information you feel could be useful to photographers in Hong-Kong. Cheers.

  • philberphoto says:

    First, Pascal, you ought to die the Chinese death of “death by a thousand cuts” for discussing Hong-Kong without talking about the food! How could you????
    Then, and only once you have been granted a Dearsusanian pardon -no, not a full pardon, a suspended sentence!-, capturing so much of Hong-Kong is so little time is awesome. Quite a few of your pics a wall-hangers, including the ferry and waterfront, the walled city guardians, the incense. That is what earned you your reprieve, but, be warned! Do not repeat this offense! But thanks for a great read! I must get back there on my way to China…

  • […] Post navigation ← Previous […]

  • >