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  • Writer's pictureMike

The lessons keep coming

When you’re on an outing to make pictures, do you think about how many successful photographs you’d like to make? Or specifically what kind of pictures you’re expecting to end up with? On a deeper level, do you give much thought to why it is you actually want to make pictures at all? These thoughts rattle around in my head on a regular basis! Particularly when I am going out to make specific photographs.

You might be wondering where I’m headed with all this rambling!?

A couple weeks ago I made a few excursions to Cheung Chau, an island 12 km west of Hong Kong Island. I had specifically gone there with the thought of photographing some of the activity in the old harbour as well as some landscapes on the surrounding coast line on the small island. It’s an appealing place as there is both cultural subject matter as well as good landscape opportunities close at hand. The island has no vehicles and in general the vibe is very slow and easy going. Though it’s only a short ferry ride away, it feels Worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Island. I made two trips and on the first, I carried one small film SLR camera with three small lenses. I met my friend Henk (Instagram: @henkjanphotography ) there and after some coffee we went around the island, which doesn’t take long as it is quite small.

There are some great spots on Cheung Chau, so I decided to make a second trip there the following week and stay for 2 nights. Knowing there would be good landscape opportunities I added a medium format camera to my gear for the second trip. On the first morning I found a few good spots to do some landscape work, but the light was far from ideal. It was sunny and bright with a lot of harsh shadows on the foreground rocks which were intended to be the main focal point. I snapped a couple frames on my cell phone to study later in the comfort of my hotel room. After looking at the image on my phone and putting the location on The Photographers Ephemeris app, I could see the light would be a lot better that afternoon. The weather forecast was good too! So I loaded up with lots of film, a tripod and my camera and left a couple hours before sunset.

The morning light... the harsh shadows on the rocks made it far from ideal.

On my way to the spot I had surveyed in the morning I came across a traditionally styled pavilion next to a temple, looking north over the water. It was a beautiful location! The pavilion was strongly side lit, had lots of texture, and the areas between the pillars provided for a composition which was like “pictures within a picture”. In the middle of the image there were boats anchored in the channel between Cheung Chau and Lantau Island, with Lantau being the background. The hills on Lantau island also had some nice texture and clouds above them. I had one frame remaining on the roll of film in my camera. I composed the scene in my viewfinder, took the photograph and then loaded a fresh roll of film. I took a second picture of the scene with my fresh roll of film and then moved on. After I left, I never gave that pavilion much thought. The main intention of that evening’s outing was the area I found in the morning and a short hike later and I reached the same spot. As predicted the light was much better! I found my composition and from that point on committed myself to the the picture at hand, happy to use all 14 remaining frames on my roll of film to capturing just one image.

Fast forward a few days later, I returned home, developed the film and voilaa! The picture I had made at the pavilion was staring at me! By far one of the nicest compositions I had managed this year! When a picture excites you, it is easy to become biased! The Pavilion shot needed a litmus test! For me that means submitting it to our monthly competition night at the Cathay Camera Club. I was fortunate! The judge gave the image 9/10… which is pretty good going in comparison to my usually much lower scores!

The Pavilion Image

The second image I submitted to our open competition was a street scene. Cheung Chau has lots of narrow alleyways and it gives one a good taste of what most of Hong Kong might have been like in the early twentieth century. Whilst standing to a side in one particular alley, I noticed the sun filtering through, making a diagonal shadow. I liked the setting and decided that I'd wait around for something interesting, an approach I use often. A man with a bucket walked by, instinctually I framed the alley and as the bucket was just between the line created by the light and shadow I clicked the shutter.

This photograph received a less than good 4/10 on our competition night. A bitter pill to swallow since I was as excited about that image too! But hindsight and a healthy dose of reality allowed me to see it for what it was. Thankfully at our camera club meetings the only thing that stands to suffer is my ego!

So what about the picture I had actually gone out there to make?

It came out well, and I’ve even printed it in the darkroom! It is going to be used as a submission to our club later this year!

This brings me back to how I started this post… and if you have read this far… thanks so much for sticking it out! I sort of summarised my Cheung Chau experience like this.

  1. Most of all, I just enjoy being out and about with a camera, making pictures! My camera is often my reason for getting out, be it locally at home or abroad (when will we be able to do that again???) This is very important! If you don’t enjoy the process of making photographs you stand to be disappointed!

  2. The images you make may not at all be what you were expecting, regardless of the medium you choose. Be it film, or digital, or even your cellphone. So many photographs are a result of a big mix of variables, many of which are not within our control.

  3. The first two points probably answer the question about how many successful images I’d be happy with. Even if all the images were a complete failure, I’d be satisfied with my effort and how I enjoyed the time spent! Luckily on this trip I came back with at least one successful photograph! If you have read the Ting Kau Bridge post (link here: ), you’ll know that sometimes I come back with no useful pictures at all and I’m perfectly ok with that!

  4. When you find a location but the conditions are not right, be patient and go back when it's better!

  5. Lastly, when you are intentional about making your photographs, you have a much higher chance of coming back with work you're pleased with even if they are different to what you had in mind!

I believe the best photographers never settle, nor do they get held back by the occasional failures! They keep working, knowing that continued effort and continued enjoyment of the effort is all that really matters!

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