Street Photography in Hong Kong with the Pen-F by Olympus

street photography hong kong pen-f

Let me tell you: there’s nothing quite like a new camera and a change of scenery to recharge the old creative batteries, especially after a long British winter. I just came back last Sunday from a fantastic three-week trip to Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand and therefore, had plenty of time to intensively test the new Pen-F by Olympus, which I've had since mid-February.

I recently published an article here on Fstoppers on the benefits of wandering in street photography, and I did just that in Hong Kong. Here was the challenge: My time in Hong Kong was limited to just under three days, and I had a new camera to test, so I figured I may have just been able to pull together a small series of street shots from there. It’s no secret that street photography is very difficult. After all, we all have a certain degree of shyness and apprehension when it comes to shooting strangers.

chinese-baby-street-photography-hong-kongI’ve been shooting street photography in London for a few years now, and even though I am a lot more confident today, I still have to constantly overcome fear. That’s me; we’re all different, and I have no issue admitting this.

What I found out from this trip in particular is that there’s nothing like being a tourist to remove the guilt or anxiety which comes with taking photos of people/strangers up-close.

airport-street-photographyWhen I am in London, since I’ve now lived there for over 16 years, I almost feel like I have no right to shoot people. I worry what they’ll think, how they’ll react. It’s natural, I guess. But out there in Hong Kong, I got such a feeling of freedom. Everyone around was taking photos, holiday snaps. So, who will know I have a purpose beyond that? I’m just a tourist, shooting what tourists shoot. Aren’t I? Well, nearly, except I'm on a mission, of course!

colourful-street-photography-hong-kongAll shots in this article were captured with the Panasonic Leica DG 25mm f/1.4 Summilux lens. This is one of my all-time favorite micro four-thirds lenses for street photography; it's on-par with the Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95, but a lot lighter and more compact.

As you can see, these are a mix of color and black and white shots. The purpose was to really dig deep into the extensive customization of these two modes (mono and color) available on the Pen-F.

chinese man mask hong kong street photographyIndeed, what has been labeled by some as gimmicky is actually a way to fine-tune the look of your JPEGs straight out of camera. "JPEGs," I hear you scream! Yes, JPEGs. I (more often than not) shoot JPEG+raw.

You see, when I can avoid it, I am not one to spend hours in front of a Mac to create a photograph; so, this ability to achieve a certain look before I press the shutter means I can spend more time shooting, less time post-processing. And of course, by also keeping a raw file, if I am not 100% happy with the shot, I can always come back to it later on my Mac.

hong kong disneyland street photographystreet-photography-hong-kongorange man hong kong street photographyAll these photographs are displayed as they were shot. Hong Kong really delivered, and I highly recommend the place for any street photography buff out there. I won’t write pages of boring technical analysis on the Pen-F, I just prefer to share real life photos I shot during a three day stopover in Hong Kong. This was a really valuable trip, and I feel recharged and ready to hit the streets of London again!

If any of you wants to ask me something, drop a comment.

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4 Comments

well done, street photography still strikes that weird uncomfortable vibe in my gut. I feel I'm imposing on people who didn't ask for a face-full of lens.

Nicholas Goodden's picture

Hi David. I agree and many times I do to. It's a balance between loving street photography and photographing people and at the same time knowing sometimes when not to take that shot. Tough one.

Charles Pragnell's picture

Great article Nicholas and some cool images. The PEN F is indeed a very lovely camera and the perfect tool for street photography I would imagine. The question that always comes to my mind when I do a little street photography is 'To ask or not to ask?' If you ask there is chance you might get a horribly posed and awkward potrait but if you don't ask there is a high risk you might receive some challenging looks or at worst a dry slap. I recently went to visit my sister in Provence and as we strolled around some of the market towns I developed a way of getting some natural portraits. I persuaded my sister to buy goods from the market sellers, distracting their attention away from the lens and enabling me to take much more natural photos. It seemed to work well and of course spending money on their goods felt like I had paid to take their photo. Expensive and of course you need a willing sister :)

Nicholas Goodden's picture

Hi Charles. There's no doubt that street photography is tough and controversial. It's up to each individual to adopt the attitude they feel matches who they are. Some street photographers have no care or empathy for others, it makes it a lot easier for them. Personally I often think "how would I feel if someone shoved their camera in front of me and took my photo without asking or even looking/smiling. "Weirdo" I'd think. So my approach (although never perfect of without guilt at times) is to either grab the shot without being noticed, but if I am caught or seen then I don't act weird or suspiciously. I just smile and raise my eyebrows as if asking "May I?"... sometimes I even use something called language! I actually ask people. Just do whatever makes you feel comfortable, we all know deep inside really what's right or not.