Tsim sha Tsui at 0.95 in low light

(The back alleyways on Chunking Mansions, great light always) Note: All shots on the Leica M9 with SLR Magic 50mm 0.95 hyperprime.  All processed with VSCO Film Presets in Lightroom 4.

Tsim sha Tsui is one of my favourite places to shoot in Hong Kong, you have the diversity of rich and poor all in a very tight community, with alleyways connecting the designer shop streets the the drug dens and everything in between.

I have been testing the SLR Magic 50mm 0.95 lens for a few weeks now, and am thoroughly enjoying the experience, and again this was my weapon of choice on the M9 for some nice grungy low light portraits and street images around this interesting part of Kowloon for a few hours last night as I tried to escape the mayhem and overspill from the Rugby 7s tournament on Hong Kong Island.

(A very friendly gentleman with his grandson)

The characters around this part of town range from the super rich, shopping along Canton road, laden with bags from Gucci, Dolce & Gabbanna and the likes...to the homeless and everything in between.  This is a normal reflection of Hong Kong life in most parts of the city actually, this diversity makes shooting on the street very appealing, I love how I can be shooting a model outside a store, then 10 seconds later I'm haggling with sinister looking characters in a back alleyway over whether they should allow their portrait to be taken (every time I do that, I have so far had no problems at all, I even take these guys prints back and they are actually very friendly towards me - like everything in life, its all about perception, if you act scared or threatened, generally people will react accordingly, reassure them and yourself that you are doing nothing untoward, and you won't go far wrong...just keep a friend close by to keep an eye on you ;-)).

(Becky and Rocco looking for images around Chunking Mansions)

(Practicing fast focus at 0.95 on a passing taxi...this is how I fine tune my focussing speed :-))

Anyway, more about the lens....I am using it almost daily now, and am finding that I can nail the focus even wide open most of the time, this comes about simply by shooting several hours a day, so I am getting plenty of practice, and am out shooting at every available opportunity with my M9.  I have noticed no focus shift on this lens whatsoever, at any aperture, and once stopped down past f2 it is way sharper than my summilux lens was before (i owned a non-asph version), which was sharp, but I cannot compare with the latest version.

(Gentleman in the alleyway doing boxing training, super friendly guy)

The only downside to this lens as people who have seen it will know is the weight, its a big piece of glass, but thats the compromise for 0.95, need a big hole to suck all that light in, and for me its no problem, I would rather carry this lens and have that option.

 (This giant of a man approached looking wary, after a quick chat, he became a new best friend)

These few pictures show how this lens comes into its own territory, shooting in dark alleyways with only the odd small streetlamp to work with, it just sucks up all the light and gives me fast shutter speeds even at low ISO and makes shooting in this low grungy light a simple task.  None of my other lenses even get close, the M9 is renowned for not having great high ISO quality, so for me this is the answer at night.

(Friendly character inside Chunking Mansions spent 10 minutes telling me the best places to shoot in Delhi!)

I have heard some people mention on my blog about 'purple fringing'....If the focus is off, then sure, you will get that with any lens when shooting into light with high contrast subjects around the edges, you can see from the colour samples here, I have done no 'fringe removals' of any kind, I have simply used '1 click' presets from VSCO film presets for lightroom 4 to give me the tones I desired from the M9 RAW files, I have not retouched the images in any other way.

(Nice chaps from Ghana, happy to pose for me inside Chunking Mansions)

Below is a portrait of Becky, one of my friends who was out shooting with us around the area, I just love the way this lens renders, to me it is a classic style, and it really copes well when shooting into the light and gives lovely lens flare effect that I do not find distracting at all, this is my opinion only of course, but from all the lenses I have shot, I really don't see any problem with this effect here.

(Becky posing with her trusty 5D II, her weapon of choice for photography)

The hub of activity around Tsim sha Tsui gives a photographer so many opportunities, I was actively looking for scenes like this one below last night, trying to find something quirky through glass, using the shallow depth of field to my advantage to help separate the subjects from the background and foreground.

(Shooting candids through the windows)

(Shooting candids through the windows)

Even late at night, all the restaurants are busy and full of activity around Hong Kong...I tend to shoot a lot of stuff at night, theres more shadow and contrasty light around, and usually easier to find interesting 'characters' to shoot around town.

(Chef on a break outside his restaurant - he cheered up immensely when I showed him the image)

After a couple of hours round the back alleys, I headed back to the Star Ferry along Nathan Road, which is always full of interesting characters aswell, whether its someone trying to sell you a copy watch or handbag, to the interesting characters just going about their lives, normally I have had no problem with shooting people in this area, just smile if they see you, and I almost always then engage them in conversation, exchange business cards and send them their photographs, makes getting out and shooting a very social and enjoyable experience, this is my therapy, it keeps me sane!

(Sitting on the fence - again, he grinned ear to ear once i showed him the image)

(Interesting outfit - passer by on Nathan Road)

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F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.


Guest Post: RJ's Cambodia (F8 Assistant)

Note:  This post is written and all photos by RJ Gurung, assistant photographer/trainee with F8.  He has been training with F8 Photography for approximately 6 months, with little previous knowledge in photography before he started in September 2011.  His enthusiasm and passion for photography drives him and has helped him develop a unique and interesting style.  I felt a trip to Cambodia would help him explore his creativity and push his skills further. - Gary Tyson, Director F8 Photography. (The author and photographer - RJ)(RJ with the street kids)

On the 2nd of March 2012, a small group of us took a direct flight to Cambodia from Hong Kong. Upon arrival in Phnom Penh in the early evening, the light was already gone, therefore we took the time to sample some Khmer food and crashed at our hotel.

Pumped up with the excitement to capture some great shots, the next morning we headed over to the poor areas of the city. Our Tuk Tuk driver advised us to visit these areas as we had told him the type of images we wanted to get, and we felt it portrayed the unfortunate living conditions of many Cambodian people.

(street kids in the railway yard)

Poverty is a big issue in Cambodia, another issue was the traffic which was very chaotic on our travels around the city.  On the roads we could see motorbikes everywhere,  even young children that looked as young as 7 or 8 years old were riding them on busy streets, so I decided to practice some techniques and capture panning shots of the motos and I was happy with the results!

(panning shotwhilst travelling by Tuk Tuk) 

Whilst we were visiting the poor areas of town, we witnessed a lot of interesting characters. There were kids playing around, old folks gathered together for their everyday chats and a humble group of people living their life in a very different way that I am familiar with in Hong Kong. We went further inside the slums and started to take pictures when the kids came over and greeted us with smiles on their faces. I must say I had an incredible time taking pictures of the kids at the same time being mesmerized by their innocence and reminiscing my own childhood.

(the eyes are the window to the soul)

One of the shots of this small kid came out to be pretty strong. I feel like the innocence and shyness of this kid twinkles in his big eyes contrasting with his dirty face reflecting his playfulness. The experience in the slums was very inspiring and it didn't seem  right to just walk away from there after taking the picture so I printed out some of their pictures and gave them a couple of dollars as a sign of respect. Overall, it was a remarkable experience for me to see how humble and lively the people in the slums were despite struggling and living their life in poverty.

(giving a print made a big difference)(RJ likes to shoot wide and close with the street kids)

The next day we went to explore Mekong Island, a short boat trip across the Mekong river.  The island has many old pagodas where the monks live, hence being calm and peaceful in contrast to the city.

(RJ shooting on Mekong Island)

In Cambodia, Buddhism is the main religion, so it was no surprise to see many young monks in the pagodas. We took their pictures and gave quite a lot of prints to them. Unfortunately, our printer ran out of batteries at the end of the day so we decided to go back the next day to give them the remaining prints and they seemed really happy to see us again.

(Young monks on Mekong Island)

We also managed to get the blessings from the monks who prayed for us. As a token of appreciation, we gave them a 50 KG bag of rice.

(Offering rice for the monks at the Pagoda)

The island offered some breathtaking scenery.  Myself and Gary climbed onto the roof of the boat when we were travelling to the island so we could soak up more scenery and sun!

(Gary and myself crossing the river on the roof of the boat)

On the return journey back to the city we were lucky enough to see a stunning sunset which gave me a really good feeling and was the perfect end to the day and the trip before we headed back to Hong Kong the following day.

(Gary & I on the boat during sunset)(Sunset over Phnom Penh)

Gary, the Director of F8 has also written a blog post about his experience, that can be seen by clicking here.

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog, if you like our blog and website, please ‘like’ us on our public Facebook page and share this story with your friends with the Facebook and twitter links below.  You can also subscribe to our blog via the RSS link below.

F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.