Photographing Northern Xinjiang

As featured on Manfrotto Imagine More blog.

A few months ago, I travelled to Xinjiang (Northwestern part of China) with a few friends. Visiting the coastal Chinese metropolitans time and again, it is easy to forget, and at times, underestimate the vast varieties of terrains, landscapes and culture that the country has to offer. And Xinjiang is definitely as rural as it can get. Before travelling, I suggest downloading Baidu Map use this instead of Google Map, and purchasing an overseas SIM card that allows you to use globally accessible apps. However, be prepared to be without internet for long periods of time during the trip. Xinjiang is geographically massive, taking up a sixth of China. For those who are unfamiliar, that is 2.3 times the size of Texas.The landscapes are vast, and every scenic attraction a lot more than a stone’s throw from each other.

Our road trip began from Urumqi, the biggest city in Xinjiang. First stop –  Kanas National Geopark – twelve hours drive from Urumqi. Kanas is famous for its untouched nature. The two main attractions are Shenxian Bay and Guanyu Observation Tower. We were able to make good on time and reach Kanas right before sunset…

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Finding shapes in architectual photography

As featured on Manfrotto Imagine More blog.

In big cities, more often than not, you’re surrounded by architecture and skyscrapers. Finding shapes while shooting architecture is not difficult. The ‘easiest’ and most straight-forward shot, is to stand in the middle of the building and get a perfectly symmetrical shot. Be sure to turn on the grid function on your camera or phone for perfect symmetry in your shots that satisfy your compulsive tendencies. But there is more to it and mountains of skills to earn in order to capture more creative photos of the same building to create different compositions.

A look-up or look-down shot is good for starters. If the building you’re in is pretty tall – say 20+ floors high – try shooting from the bottom level, then go to the mid level (e.g. 10th floor), then go to the top level to scout the building and get the most out of your stroll. Each floor will offer a slightly different angle, that could make or break your quest for the perfect shot. Having a deeper understanding of the building will help you find the perfect floor, for the perfect angle, leading to a perfectly framed shot.

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Roadtrip around Tasmania

As featured on Manfrotto Imagine More blog.

I recently went on a trip to Tasmania, an isolated island state off the southern coast of Australia. Tasmania is known for its vast rugged wilderness areas. I was accompanied by a few of my photographer friends, and needless to say, the trip was very photo-oriented.

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We carefully designed our itinerary over the course of a few weeks, with cautious planning to hit the right spots at the right time. The glue that held our itinerary together was lighting conditions. Depending on the location, we had to match the time of day that would best complement the landscape or setting. Sunrise, or Golden Hour is named such because it’s one of the most precious time of day. In other words, there was a lot of waking up at 3am, driving 2 hours, shooting astro and sunrise, then heading back for a nap before heading to the next location.

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Capturing nature is a completely different game compared to cityscapes. There is a lot more planning and research involved. Variables such as time of day, weather conditions, cloud formations, fog/mist, and possibly the location of the cluster of stars in the sky, are crucial to the setup. For astrophotography, I use apps like SkyView where it identifies stars and constellations simply by pointing your phone towards the sky. It is the best way to estimate the perfect time to line up the perfect astro shot. This is when things like, “3:43am – Depart Hotel,” and, “4:47am – Set up tripod at Cradle Mountain,” start to become commonplace in your itinerary.

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Photographing Kathmandu, Nepal

As featured on Manfrotto Imagine More blog.

Nepal is a landlocked country in between India and China – a country where religion plays a big part in local’s everyday lives. With centuries of thriving trade with the Indian subcontinent and leveraging the silk road trade route up north with china and parts of East Asia, Nepal’s culture is unique with influences from all around. I visited Nepal (mostly Kathmandu) three times. Other than the typical touristy / backpacker hotspot Thamel, here are some great places for photography.

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Swayambhunath, also known as Monkey Temple is home to not hundreds, but possibly thousands of monkeys spread around the hilltop where the stupa/temple sits. While it’s a nice stroll up the hill, be cautious of the animals, as they are always on a lookout for bags and shiny items. You could also get lucky and see a stray of dogs and cats, crows and pigeons, living harmoniously around the stupa. Hindus believe the animals serve and protect their gods’ shrines, so always be respectful to any animals in the country.

In terms of photography, Swayambhunath, a hilltop location overlooking the entire city, provides for a great cityscape shot. With the vast photo ops, I suggest you bring a vast range of lenses: use a telephoto lens for that nice textured details of the houses; or use a wide angle to capture the vast cityscape.

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While the earthquake has sadly damaged many of the landmarks a few years ago, Patan Durbar Square still provides for excellent photo opportunities. My favorite thing about Durbar Squares (there are three in total – Patan, Basantapur, and Bhaktapur), is the old folks of the neighbourhood that hang out around the squares. While in other countries, most would shy away from being photographed, Nepalese tend to welcome such opportunities...

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Tokyo Bunka Kaikan & Metropolitan Art Museum

In partnership with Tokyo Arts & Culture 東京都文化振興部.

Tokyo is known for its’ hustle-and-bustle life, the busy zebra crossings, night lights, and of course contemporary culture and food. But there is a lot more to the city. During this trip, I had the opportunity to join two architecture tours, one at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan (also known as Tokyo Metropolitan Festival Hall), the other at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, which gave me more insight on Japanese art and architecture. Both situated inside Ueno Park and designed by Japanese architect Kunio Mayekawa, who was a student of Le Corbusier.

First spot, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. Entering the lobby, you get a harmonious feeling, with dark blue ceiling and angular tiles. The ceiling features lights that seem randomly placed, but they represent the starry night sky. The floor tiles represents autumn leaves, which reflects the architect’s theory of a city’s features within one space.

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Go through the doors against the pink wall, and you get to Main Hall, where the chairs are of different colors to make the space feel less empty.

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Continuing on is the Recital hall, my personal favourite. This hall is smaller and slightly rounded so it surrounds the stage.

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You’ll notice that the two main colors are red and blue respectively. This applies to other parts of the building as well. There are two very photogenic spiral staircases* - one red and one blue. The red one is for public access, which gets them excited as they are going into the hall for the show. Blue one is for performers backstage, to give a calming feeling to help prepare for the performance.

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We continued the tour and headed to Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 5 minutes walk away from Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. The first thing I noticed is that although the two buildings are by the same architect, there are distinct differences between the two. Tokyo Bunka Kaikan was designed when Mayekawa was younger, and the design is more ‘loud’; while the art museum is designed when he was around 70 years old. It is more mature, and a lot of thought went into reducing risk, endurance / maintenance.

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Walking into the museum, the first thing you see is a reflective sculpture "my sky hole 85-2, light and shadow" by Bukichi Inoue. The sculpture reflects a 360 view of the entire museum, and gives a cool distortion to the red and brown tiled flooring.

The placement of red and brown bricks are simply from the architect’s intuition, there were no calculation or plan as to how the gradient would appear. The holes on the bricks aren’t simply a design element, but they were for nails and sticks during construction.

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Exploring the museum from the outside and inside feels totally different. Once you step into the museum lobby, you’re warmly welcomed with pink concrete curved ceiling with copper lights.One interesting thing is that when people think of modern architecture, we think of concrete steel grey. But Mayekawa always injects some sort of human touch to his work. The rock-like walls are usually unnoticeable, but they were all hand-beated with a hammer to add that human touch.

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The museum main building is divided into four parts, which are distinctively color-coded. The coloured rooms are free for anyone to access, so you can come and take photos, or just chill and hang out like the old men in the green room. The colors are meant to give visitors an excited and cheerful feeling.

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As we explored the colored rooms, I noticed something interesting in the furniture. The architecture guide explained that it’s not just a design of the chairs, but it’s because over time, we as a population of humans grew taller, and our legs got longer, so the furniture had to be updated as well.

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Neon lights of Hong Kong

As featured on Manfrotto Imagine More blog.

When one thinks of Hong Kong’s visual culture, neon lights are one of the first things that come to mind. Hong Kong used to be filled with these radiant hues, but the city’s trademark identity has been slowly disappearing since it was deemed “unsafe” by the government. As these iconic signs gradually fade, I became more and more obsessed in documenting and shooting them.

Capturing nightscape provides a unique thrill compared to shooting during the day, as you get to play around with the colors during the editing stage. I always like to tinker with the hue, saturation, and luminosity to bring out certain colors and to create the perfect mood. In this photo, I deliberately brought out the red to portray the essence of Chinese culture and its importance to my great city.

In some cases where the neon sign is interesting, but the surrounding environment is lacking panache, I would try and find angles or reflections, that can create a more interesting imagery. In this photo, I also used Manfrotto’s Lumimuse 8 mini LED light with the Multicolor filter kit to add a different shade of color on the ground, giving it a nice gradient reflection going from the red tones to the teal.

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Shooting portraits in front of these neon lights is always a fun experiment. I love how the colors reflect on people’s skin and hair, and how these lights create mood depending on the color. When shooting portraits at night, I always bring the Lumimuse as well, for it’s versatility in filter and color options...

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4 tips of shooting in the city

As featured on Manfrotto Imagine More blog.

I was born and raised in a city, and it was only recently that I realized, I love shooting cities more than anything else. In a metropolis like Hong Kong, there is always something going on. Whether it’s crowds of people rushing through the streets, or cars leaving you in the dust; whether it’s facades of buildings and high-rises, or quiet alleyways in between. There is just so much to capture in terms of photography.

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Here are some tips to make good use of your time in a city:

1. MAKE GOOD USE OF LIGHT
Light is important in photography no matter what you shoot. In cities, it is particularly interesting since there’s both natural and artificial light that you can play with. During the day, with bright sunlight, capturing architecture with barely any people and/or shadows always make for an interesting photo. At night, the neon colours add a more cinematic vibe to photos.  I often shoot long exposure car trails, as you can really capture the essence of the city with cars blazing through the highways. You can also try shooting car trails during twilight, where you can capture both natural and artificial light in the same frame. Remember to shoot with a tripod when shooting at night! My personal favourite is the BeFree carbon fibre Travel Tripod, since it’s lightweight and easy to carry around.

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2. SENSE OF SCALE
Grand cityscapes often look impressive; but to make the photo more interesting, you can compose it featuring elements like a person’s silhouette, a taxi, or trees to add a sense of scale. When taking photos with one-point perspective, try lowering your angle and shoot from the ground, tilting your camera upwards to further emphasize the grandeur of the buildings along the streets.

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3. PERSPECTIVES
What makes cities so interesting to shoot is that the same place can look completely different from a different angle and perspective. You can shoot the same building focusing on the facade, or include a human element. I suggest looking at the surroundings and finding something that is interesting that you can include in the foreground. The shots below are taken at Yik Fat Building, a very popular spot amongst photographers. Some of these feature natural elements – a nice juxtaposition with the urban jungle vibe.

4. LIFE
The people are the gears, and the city is the machine. It’s the people – the moving parts – that make the city come to life. Whenever I visit a new location, I not only focus on the architecture and buildings, but also the people who live or work there. Shooting people in an urban context is more challenging than shooting motionless structures, since you’re capturing a moment that will never happen again. I love telling stories through these shots. It adds a touch of emotion to the image, and leaves a stronger longer lasting impression.

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