You never forget your first trip to a new country. Regardless of any expectations, it always manages to surprise you with something, whether it’s its people, food, culture, or sights. And so it was with me, when I went to Hong Kong in 2007 for the first time, to watch the Rugby Sevens tournament, practice photography, and see the part of Asia I’ve never been to before.
Having been occupied by the British for a long time, Hong Kong is an amazing amalgamation of Western and Eastern cultures and language. You can take a dragon boat from Kowloon to the business district with towering skyscrapers, go party hopping from Soho to Lan Kwai Fong, and eat fried chicken feet dim sum followed by a proper afternoon tea service. Needless to say, photo opportunities present themselves around every corner and I came prepared with my Nikon D70 (at that time still a formidable camera), a Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, a tripod, and a number of other photography gadgets.
One of the photos I knew I wanted to take for sure was a nighttime shot of Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui from the Victoria Peak. The plan was to take the awesome funicular, aka the Peak Tramway, up to the top, set up around dusk and shoot for about an hour as the night set in. Unfortunately, I got delayed watching the Russian rugby team win 3rd place in the tournament and didn’t have the time to run back to my hotel and get the tripod. So, with the sun almost to the horizon, I rushed to the Peak.
The views from there were spectacular, to say the least. The multicolored skyscraper lights were coming on. A light fog was setting in, making the city look a bit like Coruscant (yes, that is a Star Wars reference). I took several handheld shots while the light lasted and then thought about how I was going to continue. Complicating matters were throngs of tourists who futilely tried to capture the landscape using the puny flashes on their point-and-shoots.
The best vantage point was the edge of the Peak Tower viewing platform, but the wide guardrail there was sloping, not flat. Beyond it was a sheer drop of a few hundred feet. I decided to balance the camera on a bag set on that rail and hope for the best. I had to support the bag with one arm without touching the camera (or breathing much) and trigger the shutter via remote control with the other, all while fending off people anxious for my spot. I took about 30 shots at various shutter speeds and focal lengths, but this is the one I am most happy with.
After I got back home, the jet-lag set in. I remember waking up 3 am, feeling not particularly well, but still wanting to work on the photos. I knew that this shot had good composition and framing, but it was a bit flat and washed out (there’s only so much you can do at night with an APS-C sensor). However, I had recently started using DxO Optics Pro, and those of you familiar with it know that it allows for endless tinkering. I played around with various settings for some time, using the light controls to punch up the contrast and remove some of the noise, but when I applied the Kodachrome 64 film mode I knew that the photo was ready.
I love how exotic it makes an already exotic city look, and every time I look at the print hanging on my wall, I want to go back and see it with my own eyes again. There are many similar shots of Hong Kong from the top of Victoria Peak; some shot with better cameras, by better photographers, but this one is mine. Don’t let anyone tell you that shooting popular views is not creative — it’s your inspiration, your work, and the result will always have a special meaning for you.