New York - or Liberty City, as it's currently known :) - may be the city that never sleeps, but Hong Kong has a fair claim to being a late-night town as well. Most of the shops here close at 10:00pm, and you're only getting ready to go out at 11:00 pm.

Hong Kong has a lot to offer in terms of cityscapes, and a view across Victoria Harbour on a sunny summer day is quite something- but the city leaves it's best take-my-breath-away beautiful for that time between sunset and sunrise, when the lights are on. And it really can take you breath away: a trip down to Tsim Sha Tsui always impresses, no matter how often I've been there over the course of the last three years.

Here's what I mean:

Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour

This is a shot I got a couple of weeks ago, and which I've been meaning to go and get for ages. It's taken during the Symphony of Light, which is a tourist-board initiative over which uses a host of buildings on both sides of the harbour as a giant light-and-sound production. It' s really something to see, as huge lasers flick out into the night sky, and whole buildings flash and pop their lights. Less something to hear, though, as the soundtrack is willfully appaling. BUt hey, you can't have it all.

Unfortunately, I took my travel-light tripod along with me on this shoot, rather than the big boy, as I was confident I could use some concrete blocks to lift the camera over the railings in the parkinglot I was using as a shooting location. I use this parking lot all the time, and was sure that the blocks would be perfect. Turns out I was wrong: using the blocks would have been downright dangerous, as they would leave me balancing my camera very pecariously 8 stories over a very busy walkway. Dropping objects from height in Hong Kong even by accident, is a criminal offence, to say nothing of the damage to my camera.

So I was forced to keep the camera on it's neck strap, hand-hold, balance and hope. I put the zoom all the way in, to 28mm, and pointed in roughly the right direction. Then, I took a deep breath, pushed the shutter-release, and waited the 30 seconds I was looking for. After two shots, I realised that I wouldn't be able to hold my breath for long enough. CO2 was filling up my lungs, making them feel like a balloon which was about to burst, and I started shaking.

So I then moved on to a series of slow, steady breaths out while taking the shots. I was balancing the camera on those offending concrete blocks, which was ok for just the camera (safely wrapped up on my neckstrap and resting on my pointer and middle finger for an approximation of the correct angle for the photo). I got two frames that kind of worked - they're nice and sharp, but I have had to crop them down from a 6 MP shot to about a 4 MP - which is less than ideal.

I also failed to check my settings before shooting, and shot JPEG, which hamstrings you a little when you get home and fire up photoshop. So I'm planning on a reshoot of the day, with the big daddy tripod and full zoom available to me.

Here's the other decent pic from the night's shooting:

Hong Kong's Star Ferry Pier and Victoria Harbour

which I think worked out really well. A little work on levels, a little sharpening and some removal of unwanted lens flare, and it brightened up well.

Shooting landscapes (or cityscapes, really) in Hong Kong is one of the best things to do while you're here, and because of it's nighttime photogenic properties, you'll generally be out there sometime lateish. This is what I've found to be my favourite locations, gear and settings (in no particular order):

  • 20 - 30 seconds, at ISO 200. I like to go with the lowest ISO rating I can- saves time on the noise, which I really detest about digital photography. Give me good old film grain any day, especially for black and white.
  • Water, somewhere, and often in the foreground. Reflected light gives some awesome colour effects here, and there are usually a lot of lights to reflect from. See the above two pics for what I mean, as well as this one:

Beach in Purple

  • Weird colours in the sky, and on the water, because of these reflections. These usually work for you, but the sky colour can often come out very bright at long exposures because of all the flight around. It can give you a nice fringed effect from the other side of a hill, or it can go luminous orange, which may or may not work out well. IN the shot above, the sea goes a nice colour, but the sky is all weird.
  • Tripod with stabilizing hook for you to put your camera bag on to hold the tripod steady. Hong Kong doesn't often have heavy winds (outside of a typhoon) but it does have a lot of poeple walking by your gear, which can cause a slight shake in your shots.
  • Shutter release cord or IR shutter release - it often happens that you bump your camera while you set off the shutter. Before I got the IR release for Nikon, I used the time release, which works fine for camera shake, but you can't time your shot to perfection.

So, Tsing Lung Tau, Victoria peak and TST beckon again, and I'll be shooting all at night again. Anyone else got any tips to add to this, or other night shot locations? I went up Tai Mo Shan a couple of weekends back, well before dawn, to get a sunrise over the city shot, but it turned out to be a complete bust: very hazy, and I couldn't see through some thick summer foliage. How about Jardine's Lookout, Kowloon side? I've never been up there. Any good?