Friday, August 16, 2013

The Golden Hour

Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon from Victoria Peak on Hong Kong. The hour around sunset (or sunrise) is called the Golden Hour and is the best time to photograph cityscapes, balancing the setting sun as the lights come on in the city

Pretty much everyone who goes to Hong Kong ends up at Victoria Peak at sunset. The view is one of the world’s great urban sunset scenes. Hong Kong is land starved, so it builds up. Skyscrapers dominate the north side of the island and frame the view across Victoria Harbor to Kowloon perfectly. 

If you’re going to photograph the sunset from the “Peak” you need to get there early. We went up to the peak late in the afternoon to photograph the sunset. There’s a large shopping mall at the top and a couple of restaurants and bars in the scenic overlook complex next to the mall. When we got to the top of the peak (17.30ish) there were a lot of people wandering around, checking out the sites. Sunset in Hong Kong at this time of year is about 19.00 so we had an hour and half to wait, but by 18.00, people were crowding the edge of the overlook and space was at a premium so I worked my way to the front and waited for the sunset. 

The best pictures come from being at the front of the crowd because unless you’re extraordinarily tall (and with an equally tall tripod) you’re going to be photographing the back of hundreds of heads as the sun sinks and the lights come on in the skyscrapers. 

I made some photos of the scene during my wait and chatted with other tourists while we waited for the day’s light to end.
More or less the same scene earlier in the afternoon.

I made a decision when I went to Hong Kong not to bring my big tripod, but I did have a little table top tripod that I thought I could set on the edge of the safety railing. My scheme would have worked except the top of the safety railing was sloped and my tiny tripod kept sliding off the bannister. 

I ended up having to hand hold my cameras. It was a good thing I was at the front of the crowd, right at the safety railing, because I used it to brace my cameras on the rail, I was able to “hand hold” the cameras at relatively slow shutter speeds (⅛ - ¼ of a second). But I still ended up using higher ISO’s than I intended (800-1600) and bigger f-stops (1.2 - 2) than I wanted to but I still had a lot of photos with motion blur that I deleted. 

The lights came up as the sun went down and shutters started clicking. I’m sure a lot of unusable photos were made at the Peak that evening. Only a few people were using tripods and most of the people were doing “hail Mary” type photos. Hail Mary photos are not always successful in the best of times and photographing a sunset in a crowd of hundreds, all sticking their cameras over their heads, is not the best of times. 
One of the last photos I made at Victoria Peak. The “toy camera” look was an accident, a result of photographing wide open (in this case f2.5 with my 14mm lens on a Micro 4:3 camera). Unfortunately it’s not perfectly sharp.  

I seldom travel with a tripod. I don’t usually check bags, especially on short trips, I carry just a smallish camera bag and a small duffel carry on bag for  my clothes and 13 inch MacBook Pro. Carrying a tripod would push me into checking bags, and that’s something I try to avoid. But there are times when having a “real” tripod is pretty much essential to making a good photo. Sunset at Victoria Peak is one of those times. (Free business tip to entrepreneurs out there: start a tripod rental business at scenic overlooks. Seriously. A tripod rental at Victoria Peak could make a bundle of cash.) 

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  1. Great sunset shots Jack. Great to catch up with you in HK.

    Hope to see you soon.

    Nick & Jess

  2. Thanks Nick. It was great seeing you guys and the food was fantastic!


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