To me, doing photography in Hong Kong is like playing football in the Real Madrid Stadium or basketball at the Madison Square Garden or rugby at Twickenham. You got the idea. Just the best.
This city has so much energy that you will hardly put your camera in the bag, not even at night.
Travel photography in Hong Kong is a mix of landscape photography, with the beautiful bay and beyond, street photography, with the many opportunities coming from an amazing cosmopolitan city, and architectural photography, with the unique buildings and the high population density.
Table of Contents
In my last Asian journey, I had a 4 days photography trip in Hong Kong, together with Marco, a London-based friend and Andrea, a professional local photographer that introduced us to a few amazing and secret locations, besides some iconic places
Building photography reaches its best in Hong Kong, however, keep in mind that a few body corporates are limiting the access. This guide has been updated to 2020, so no old stuff.
Without further ado let’s get into it.
Street Photography in Hong Kong
Everywhere you go you will find options for street photography in Hong Kong. As easy as that.
The great thing is that everyone talks English, or at least enough words to communicate.
I always prefer to talk and understand the personal stories of people before shooting in an indiscriminate way.
There are obviously situations when I want to catch the moment and talk later, however, usually, I always try to have a laugh, two words, a chat with my photography subjects.
Based on the Hong Kong area you visit you will have different kinds of subjects.
In Wan Chai (Hong Kong Island) you can experience more of a local life, a great area for photography at the market (I love the Wan Chai Market), at the butchers (almost everywhere) and the veggie shops. Everyone screaming and trying to sell their own product.
In Central (Hong Kong Island) you can find more tourists and western people. Soho is my favourite part of Central with the Tai Kwun Center of Heritage and Arts a great location to frame some nice shots.
The JC Contemporary building has one of the most amazing stairs I have ever seen.
At night you can experience plenty of elevated restaurants, bars, taxi, street stalls, all under a mystic red light
Mong Kok (Kowloon) is the busiest place on earth according to an ABC article. And I may add, Mong Kok has the most beautiful markets in Hong Kong.
I wrote a post about the most interesting districts in Hong Kong here. You should have a read to have a feeling of the city.
The red taxis were always a great source of inspiration to me.
Food is everywhere in Hong Kong
Interesting people are literally everywhere. I always like to include them in the foreground of iconic places.
Building Photography in Hong Kong
Yes, there are many apartment blocks in the city. It’s a busy place to live, besides being very expensive. Space is a real asset.
Building photography in Hong Kong requires some planning because the interesting locations are sometimes far from each other.
Later in the post, you can see a full map with my favourite spots, including a few secret ones (or at least not as popular)
The most impressive to me is still The Monster in Hong Kong Island. It requires though a bit of a trip from Central.
I personally suggest visiting this building at night when you will be less likely to meet other photographers and the light is overall better I believe.
During the day it can be busy with many Instagrammers and the locals are not happy with so many intruders.
For a different view, take a photo from the opposite multilevel garage.
Just meters from the Monster I found an amazing hidden spot, with the “Inception” building. I have never seen this building in any photo before, a unique view. I made the name up, by the way, but I think it’s appropriate.
The Choi Hung Estate is another great location. It’s also a popular one though. Go there as early as you can in the morning. In the afternoon it’s impossible to make any clear photo.
The Ping Shek Estate is still a bit of a hidden secret spot. There are 4 square building with a similar shape. Access to the central yard is through the building tunnel (no locks).
If you are able to squeeze in through one of the doors you can access, through the staircase, the top floor (it’s a lot of steps). There is a doorman at the elevator.
I also played a bit with the panorama mode of my mobile for some creative photos.
I personally like to take close up of the buildings, trying to always create a contrast between the ages of construction, the colours and other elements. Highlight something interesting.
For a few interesting photos, I suggest a visit to one or more markets. Plenty of subjects for some easy photography in Hong Kong. Why?
- people are so busy that they will not care about you taking photos. So, if you don’t feel confident in photographing people in the street then the market is the place to start with.
- this is where most of the locals go for grocery shopping, from meat to fish, from veggies to fruit. Every day. Supermarkets are very very rare in the city centre. You can document the real local life in a market
- it’s an easy place to have a chat with locals, ask about the area, about how long do they live there, and making a photo at the end with a story behind
- the markets are usually between tall building, look around and check if you can find an elevated spot to take a photo. The result can be really impressive. Multilevel parking buildings are always a good option
Landscape photography in Hong Kong can be magnificent as well as a complete failure. It all depends on the weather.
One of the easiest, though most effective, photo of Hong Kong Island to make is from the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui at night.
This is a long exposure photo (30sec) at ISO 100 and f/11. Humidity is a bit of concern in Hong Kong. I personally suggest using an aperture between F/7 and f/11 for the sharpest photo.
A tripod is not mandatory for the above photo as you can leave your camera on the floor of the pier in Tsim Sha Tsui. In saying that, the tripod helps a ton (see later section for the gear I used on this trip).
For a wider view of Hong Kong take the tram to the Peak (more info here on the transportation). This is the top of the hill in Hong Kong Island.
The best light comes at sunset. During the day the view is beautiful but the photo is going to be a bit flat. Unfortunately, during my stay, I had always a cloudy/rainy afternoon and therefore I did not make it to the Peak (no visibility).
Here is an important tip I gathered before my trip. Once you get on top you can access the viewing platform through a gate (included in the price). However, once you leave the platform you will not be able to re-access.
The suggestion here is to access the viewing platform 30 minutes before sunset to set yourself on a good spot and wait for the great light there. It will be very busy, at least based on the few photos and videos I have seen.
Here below a photo by our collaborator Remi Lesueur, to have an idea of the view.
Remi also suggested a trip to Lamma Island, another spectacular place for landscape photography in Hong Kong (you can read more about his experience here)
Hong Kong photography spots (including secret locations)
Here below a map with the Hong Kong photography spots mentioned in this post
You can see the interactive Google map here.
This is a list of my best locations for photography in Hong Kong. I am sure it’s a list that is going to grow with the next trips. This city is so photogenic. There are so many opportunities.
A DIY Hong Kong Photography tour – free and easy
This is a self-paced photography tour that I would suggest for a trip of 2 full days (3 nights). I will add also a few spare places you may add on a third day or swap with the ones in the list below.
I have divided the tour in two areas: Hong Kong Island (south of the bay in the map above) and Kowloon (north of the bay). For more information and orinenteering, you should read what I wrote about the Hong Kong areas.
Day 1 – Hong Kong Island
- Early call in the morning and walk to the Wan Chai Market. Here you can easily spend 2-3 hours
- Tram to the Elevated RoundAbout in Causeway Bay (you can take a few photos from the tram too)
- Lunch and coffee time (plenty of places around)
- Tram to the Tsat Tsz Mui area for building photography
- Train to Central and tram to the Peak for sunset
- Down to Soho for dinner and some street photography
- Tram to Quarry Bay for building photography (The Monster and Inception)
I know, an intensive day!
Day 2 – Kowloon
- In the morning, the earlier the better, take a train to the Choi Hung Estate for a few photos of the colourful buildings
- From there have a walk to the Ping Shek Estate (the square building). These two estates should take most of the morning
- Have lunch to one of the small shops around (just keep in mind that it will be difficult to communicate in English, both areas are not touristy)
- Train to Mong Kok (you may also want to have lunch here) for some street photography and photography shops
- Photography at the Mong Kok market
- It’s already dark, time for an elevated photo of the Temple Street Night Market
- Few more photos at the market itself, very interesting
- Dinner in the area
- Taxi (10m) or walk (30m) to the Avenue of Stars for the Hong Kong Island night photo and a few more shots/memories of the famous movie stars
You may also want to consider these locations:
- Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts (in Central)
- JC Contemporary (free entry), a great place to spend a couple of hours if you like contemporary art besides being also an awesome spot for photography
- Ladies Market
- Chi Lin Nunnery, where I made the photo of the monk
My gear and what I missed so much
In my photography trip in Hong Kong, I used the following gear:
- Sony A7RII
- FE 4/24-105mm G OSS lens
- FE 2.8/35mm
- 2 spare batteries
- Gorilla Pod (easier to carry it around, I did not miss a tripod on this trip, I always found a place to put the Gorilla Pod)
- Samsung S9 (mostly used for video and panorama photos that I wanted to posts straight away on my Instagram stories)
- Zhiun Gymbal (for stable videos, essential)
I missed so much 2 things:
- a wide angle lens, it would have been perfect for building photography
- a drone (unfortunately my next destination was Vietnam where it would have been confiscated at the Da Nang Airport)
Last note. I was travelling with my friend Marco that had a Sony A7RIII.
My take is that both cameras (II and III) are very similar. I was jealous only of his double memory slot I must say (I had always to make backups back in the hotel).
So surprised to see how badly works the GPS with the new Sony A7RIII (battery killer for both the camera and the mobile)
I was also jealous of Marco’s S10 Samsung. The wide angle lens is just amazing and the video stabilization is almost comparable with my S9 + Gymbal (amazing!).
Camera shops in Hong Kong – Buying or not?
Marco and I had this discussion previous to the trip and during our stay.
We also have a friend in Hong Kong, Andrea, that is living there for over 10 years.
The camera and lenses prices are not too far from Europe or Australia. You may save a few dollars, or euros, however, you will not have a warranty working in your country (no international cover). This means that if something happens you will have to send the gear back to HK. In two words, not worthy.
SD Cards have a good price, probably 20% less. My only tip here is to buy from reputable shops and test them straight away. The Wan Chai Computer Centre is a good place to check out.
I hope this guide to photography in Hong Kong has answered all your question but please do leave a comment with any question or comment and I will reply in no time, no worries.