After lots of food-focused interviews it’s time to meet Peter Lam, who has a great eye for photography. I love that he regularly goes out to explore different areas of Hong Kong and shows them in a different light.
For example, I live close to Tung Chung but I’ve never really bothered to take pictures there – most of the time I’m just on my way to the MTR or about to hike to the Buddha, so I never have a good camera with me. I know, that’s a weak excuse – but actually I’ve never seen anything in Tung Chung that has captured my eye. But Peter is different, he looks around and takes beautiful as well as quirky pictures of his surroundings! Just look at what he’s encountered around Tung Chung Bay, from artists at the pier to high rise reflections in the water. It’s beautiful!
Same goes for his series about Sunny Bay. Again, that’s a place where I don’t dwell – but Peter took his time and explored the area. I had no idea there were logs in the water and I would not have dreamed to shot a lost and lonely glove on its own – but Peter did it in an artistic way. Clever.
Peter’s pictures will let you see Hong Kong in a different light. Busy areas like Kowloon suddenly look quiet and calming, the Tsuen Wan pier looks romantic and Tai Tam is beautiful in colour as well as black and white. He’s got a good eye for strong compositions and mixes landscape with street photography. I always look forward to his posts!
For today, let me interview Peter about his love for photography in and around Hong Kong:
What made you start your blog?
Honestly, I just needed a place to put my ‘stuff’. That’s fundamentally the reason. For a while I’ve been posting photos on Facebook, and I also have a Flickr account, but it’s difficult to manage your own content on those sites, and to put some context around the photos. Besides, I’m sure many of my Facebook friends are tired of me essentially spamming my pictures on their feeds, because I know not everyone shares the same passion for photography as myself (which is fine). It’s also nice to have something of my own that’s dedicated to my content, and not shared with other social users competing for attention on the same page.
My friend (who used to be a blogger herself) encouraged me to start a blog, but I was initially very hesitant to do so. It just seemed like a lot of work (and it is), and besides, who would want to read it? I also had the misconception of a blogger as a loner eternally sitting at the local Starbucks, glued his Mac notebook like some aspiring writer, logging his observations of the world around him with profound insights. This is clearly not me. If anything, I hang out at Pacific Coffee, and my preferred work tool is an Android tablet :-) And I’m not insightful at all. [Note from bluebalu: I disagree, I think Peter’s pictures and posts are very insightful!]
But then, last September when I made the move from Toronto to Hong Kong, I thought I’d give it a try. It seemed like a good time to do it – brand new surroundings and culture, and a good way to show my friends in Canada what I’ve been up to on the other side of the world. My work schedule also allows me quite a bit of free time in the afternoons on my own (I’m working remotely for a Canadian company, so my working hours often follow North American times, whereas my wife keeps regular working hours here in Hong Kong).
In the beginning, I had no idea where the blog was headed, or if I would like blogging at all. Then I started to do a lot of hiking, and was pretty amazed at the beautiful Hong Kong countryside and the contrast to the busy city – and so I posted photos of these hikes. I kept the writing to a minimum; after all, it’s a photo blog and writing is hard! After a little while, I started getting ‘Likes’ and ‘Follows’ from other WordPress bloggers, and that was just amazing and very encouraging. So I’ve kept at it, trying to post weekly, and next thing I know it’s been 6 months already.
What camera and equipment do you use? Do you only shot with the X-Pro 1? When did you start taking pictures?
I’ve been taking photos casually for a long time, but only recently has it become a more serious hobby for me. I’d say about 3 years ago, when I purchased a Nikon DSLR, was when I really got hooked. Before that, it was mostly family and travel photos, more point-and-shoot than actually creating images and documenting things. Around the same time my father also gave me his old film SLR camera, a Topcon RE Super with a few lenses that his father passed on to him. That also piqued my interest and I started using it; the camera has sentimental value to me since my grandfather passed away before I was born, and it is the only thing I have that links me to him.
Photography also feeds my obsession for electronic gadgets, so it’s a constant struggle to keep that under control and just concentrate on being a better photographer rather than dwelling on the hardware. There’s a phrase photographers like to use: Gear Acquisition Syndrome. So yeah, sometimes I get GAS. :-)
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is my primary camera. I like it a lot, as it’s a relatively small camera with amazing image quality and the performance of the Fuji lenses are superb. It’s also a very analog way of taking digital pictures (if that makes any sense) due to the dial controls. The camera also allows the use of old manual lenses with relatively inexpensive adapters, further expanding creative possibilities. Some of these legacy lenses are exceptionally good and available for a mere fraction of their original prices, so I have small collection of those.
Two weeks ago I also picked up a Fujifilm X100s, which is a compact fixed-lens camera. This camera is great for street photography and candids because it is small and unobtrusive, yet has the same image quality as the X-Pro1. It’s my carry-everywhere camera – I use this when I don’t need the flexibility of interchangeable lenses.
How would you describe your style?
That’s something I am still working on – I don’t think I have a style at the moment. Because of my outdoor activities, most of the pictures in my posts are landscape type images, documenting the scenery around me when I’m on a hike, for example. There are also street photography style photos, while others are quite random. I guess I’m still exploring a lot and trying to see what works for me. This is another aspect of the blog that I find very useful, and hopefully helps me develop as a photographer. By keeping a record of my posts, I want to be able to look back at my old photos and see how my style and subjects change over the years.
I’m also very much drawn to black and white images, and that’s something I’ve been playing around with too.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
That’s a tough question to answer. I think it depends on my mood. Often it the great work of the many professional photographers out there who showcase their images on websites or exhibitions. Sometimes I go to a library or bookstore and get inspired by the old masters, famous and newly discovered (check out the amazing story and work of street photographer Vivian Maier). Or I browse through some Flickr groups and get blown away by images from fellow enthusiasts.
Most times, though, it’s just being in an interesting place and having a camera in hand. Big cities like Hong Kong make it easy to find something picture worthy. The people and culture here are so unique, and there’s something different around every corner it seems.
What are your favourite places in Hong Kong to take pictures of the city and its people?
Hong Kong fascinates me. You can find absolutely everything in this city, from the superskyscrapers of the Central financial district and the densely populated apartment blocks of Kowloon, to the rural villages of Lantau and pristine coastline of Sai Kung. My favorite places are usually those where you can still catch a glimpse of the people and lifestyles of a bygone era, and how they contrast with the modern, fast paced city. Places like the old street markets squeezed between luxury brand stores, or small fishing villages that are about to disappear due to land redevelopment. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up here, so I don’t take these things for granted. Things change so quickly in Hong Kong, in a few decades it could all be gone. I think it’s important to preserve the culture that makes this place unique, and taking a picture is one way of doing that.
My friends here always tell me that I’ve seen more places in Hong Kong than they’ve ever been, and they’ve lived here all their lives! To me that’s a good thing. I hope they get inspired and venture out themselves.
Are you continuing with your 100 strangers project?
Ah yes, I haven’t abandoned my 100 Strangers! I guess I’m on a break since starting it last summer. It’s a great project, and one that I find very challenging and intimidating. In addition to practicing and developing portraiture skills, the real challenge is pushing the photographer beyond his comfort zone in terms of interaction with others.
Gaining trust and a certain degree of intimacy with a complete stranger in order to take a good portrait is very difficult, even more so here in Hong Kong where people in general seem to be suspicious of photographers. But that’s the whole point of the project, to overcome your own inhibitions and not be afraid of rejection. That’s especially true for an introvert like myself, and the rewards are equally amplified. The portrait itself almost becomes secondary.
Now that you’ve reminded me, I really should motivate myself and pick it up again. At this rate it’ll be a decade before I finish my first 100 portraits!
What tips can you give to a hobby photographer on taking better pictures?
I’m not really qualified to give advice, but I suppose it would have to be practice, practice, practice. The technical stuff is actually easy – know your camera, learn and experiment with exposure, try different things in post-processing. This comes fairly naturally to me, as I have an engineering background and work with computers all day. In comparison, for me at least, the hard things are the intangibles – what makes a photo have meaning, and how it connects with the viewer. The artistic side, if you can call it that. I struggle with that a lot.
Look at what other photographers are doing, and when you see a photo you like, try to figure out why you like it. How does it make you feel? Even have a look at some art history and you’d be surprised how much good paintings and photographs have in common.
Do you read other blogs – are they photography-focused? Which ones could you recommend?
I must confess that I wasn’t much of a blog reader before I started blogging myself. I’m amazed at how many really great blogs there are out there – there are just so many good writers. I’ve started following a few and been keeping up to date with them. Some are photography based, but others are lifestyle, culture, and food-centric (of course). It’s a whole universe that I didn’t know existed… Being a bit of a news junkie, most of my Web surfing consisted of my Google News feed in the pre-blog days.
Some of my local favorites are Blue Balue: Living in Hong Kong (you write so effortlessly and make it look so easy), Hong Kong Fong (another great writer) and Homemade in Hong Kong (simple and delicious Chinese home cooking, great recipes and food adventures.).
For photography, check out Olaf and Kasia Sztaba Photography (gorgeous images from this husband and wife team) and JR Photography (a fellow Dane using adapted lenses on his X-Pro1). These professional photographers also happen to be Fujifilm fans. I can only aspire to be as skilled as they are, maybe one day…
I also visit Fuji Rumors a lot to get my daily dose of gear fixation. This site tracks upcoming Fujifilm product releases.
Thanks Peter, it was nice talking with you. If you want to find out more about his great pictures, check out his Peter Lam Photography blog.
[All pictures in this post belong to Peter at Peter Lam Photography ]
PS: Missed a previous interview with a Hong Kong blogger or expert? Check out my series here.