Images shot with the classic Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8
If I were to think of the most popular cities in the world for street photography, Hong Kong would probably be on my list.
There’s likely some Baader-Meinhof phenomenon going on there, which is that thing where you buy a new car and then you notice more of them driving around than you did before you had one.
I’ve been to Hong Kong a bunch of times, and I follow a number of Instagram accounts where Hong Kong street photography is often posted. So when I see a place on there I recognise, it’s natural that it registers more mentally than places I’ve never been.
It’s a very colourful place, Hong Kong. In the daytime with the markets and signs and red taxis driving around, and at night when all the neon gets turned on.
There are lots of people making the most of this and producing very good colour Hong Kong street photography today.
However, thanks to a man named Fan Ho and his peerless work, I feel the city’s street photography history is iconically monochrome.
Where to shoot your Hong Kong street photography
Whether you shoot colour or monochrome street photography in Hong Kong is entirely up to you. I chose to go monochrome the time I went and made these photos, but I could easily go with colour if and when I next return.
While I would never tell you how, I can give you pointers for where you can shoot while you’re there. So let’s get into that.
First up, if you don’t have too much time to explore wider Hong Kong, your two main places are probably going to be the southern end of Kowloon and the northern region of Hong Kong Island.
The Big Buddha on Lantau Island is well worth a visit whether someone is into photography or not, and there are beaches at Repulse Bay and Stanley on the south side of Hong Kong Island where you could do some nice documentary photography too.
It’s the two sides of Victoria Harbour that give the most street photography opportunities in a small area, though.
I’ve always started my day at Mongkok in Kowloon, because that’s where I’ve always stayed, and wandered my way down to Victoria Harbour.
Mongkok is lively and nicely located to give you a decent walk down to the waterfront – not too far away and not too close either. You also have the famous Ladies Market to explore and get plenty of shots from.
Walking south down Nathan Road will take you to the Temple Street market too, although this may be more of a nighttime place. Or at least early evening when everyone is setting up.
Once you get down to the Victoria Harbour waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui, you’ll have plenty of people to include in your shots of the iconic skyline across the bay.
This walk from Mongkok to Tsim Sha Tsui really could take you all day if you spend the time to explore all the alleyways and side streets along the way.
I’d also recommend taking a break for some good Indian food from the ground floor at Chungking Mansions when you reach there too, possibly even taking it out to eat in Kowloon Park if the weather is good.
Once you’ve finished in Kowloon, crossing the water on the Star Ferry is a must-do thing in Hong Kong. You can get some nice photographs on it too, both of the harbour and of your fellow passengers.
I’ve always found Hong Kong Island to have a completely different feel to Kowloon. The latter is older and grimier, in a good way, whereas the parts of Hong Kong Island we’ll talk about here are generally newer and shinier.
Around the area called Central, you can expect people in suits smoking outside office buildings, people in parks taking their lunch break, and generally more of a feeling that you’re in a global financial hub than you got in Kowloon.
This also means having a few bar areas to shoot too, like Lan Kwai Fong and around Wan Chai with their bright lights and assortment of clientele and staff trying to attract said clientele inside.
Finally, the narrow and hilly streets and paths around Hollywood Road and the Mid-Levels Escalators give some genuinely unique Hong Kong scenes to capture.
What to expect when shooting street photography in Hong Kong
Just like everywhere I’ve shot across the border in mainland China, I found Hong Kong to be a safe place to do some street photography.
This safeness comes in two flavours. The first is that Hong Kong is a safe city in terms of being the victim of petty crime, like getting mugged or people asking if you’d like to give them your camera.
The second aspect of Hong Kong’s street photography safeness is that most people won’t mind you photographing them. Even if they do, it’s far more likely they’ll motion you not to rather than getting actually confrontational about it.
If this happens, respect their wishes, acknowledge them, and just move on to another subject.
If you want to branch out from shooting people, Hong Kong has plenty of variety and character in its architecture too, although some spots are pretty played out now. The colourful Choi Hung basketball court and the so-called monster building at Montane Mansion both spring to mind.
Personally, I don’t know if I’d want to add myself to the increasing numbers of people the local residents have to contend with every day just so I could make an Instagram post identical to so many others.
Wrapping up these monochrome Hong Kong shots
I didn’t really have this kind of article in mind when I was making these photographs with the classic Super-Takumar 55mm f1.8, so I can’t show you shots from each exact location I mentioned in here.
However, they were taken during a walk from Mongkok to the waterfront. I can say that with complete certainty because it’s a walk I always take when I’m in Hong Kong.
Hopefully they demonstrate that, even if you have specific destinations in mind, you’ll find things to shoot pretty much wherever you look in between them too.
Whether you go with monochrome or colour is up to you. For instant inspiration for colour work, you can just browse the #hongkongstreetphotography hashtag on Instagram.
For monochrome though, or just for work presented in a medium more timeless, check out Fan Ho and his books Hong Kong Yesterday, The Living Theatre, and A Hong Kong Memoir. You might be able to find them on Amazon, but they’re often sold out.
All that aside, if you’re ever in Hong Kong or plan to go, just know that it’s a great place for some street photography. In the end, colour or monochrome doesn’t matter. Shoot what you want. I don’t care. Just so long as you shoot something.
You never know. One day it might be people talking about your work like we are now that of Fan Ho.