Join David Hobby for an in-depth discussion in this video Shooting at the Mong Kok market, part of The Traveling Photographer: Hong Kong.
No matter what country you're visiting a food market is a great place to start exploring. If you are looking for a good entry point into street shooting in Hong Kong, one great option is to find one of the city's many street markets which are spread all over the island. This food market on Yin Chong Street between the Yau Ma Tei and Mongkok subway stations is typical of the markets all over Hong Kong. There's a dry market along the street itself with stalls and then on the outside of that and tucked into the buildings on the street, the permanent buildings, there's a wet market kind of tucked in back.
It's a cool place to wander as a photographer and as a traveler, actually. There are lots of people. There's great food to try. The fruits and vegetables and such. And all kinds of cool snacks and candies and that sort of thing. My strategy at this market was to walk the length of it several times, just shooting as I went. I'm buying some food and trying to absorb it all and maybe meet some people. So walking along the dry market is an easy way to vacuum up interesting pictures and to see what's available for sale. The food is really good quality and the prices are fantastic, so if you are self-catering this is also a great place to be finding stuff to eat.
So for that reason alone I would recommend hitting a market first, even if you're not taking pictures. Looking around, there's all kinds of cool stuff to shoot. I'm particularly draw to vegetables and such that I've seen before. But also looking at some of the things that I don't even know what it is, much less how you cook it or eat it. And China and Hong Kong, obviously, is kind of famous for some of this kind of stuff and I find it very interesting as a photographer. I do get a little more adventurous when I get to the fruit section because I've never really met a fruit that I didn't like.
These rose apples were ... They didn't taste as good as they look, because I think they look pretty amazing and obviously they're highly valued if they are being presented in these little squishy plastic protectors. Not a big fan of those. But what I loved was this next thing. It's a pitaya or, more commonly known as, a dragon fruit. And on the outside it looks like some, like, freaky alien egg from a science fiction movie but on the inside it is a ... So think kiwi fruit but softer, more sumptuous.
Sweeter and just impossibly magenta on the inside. I mean, there's like no way this thing can be real, but it is. As you work up and down the inside of the market in the dry market, meeting people, whatever, if you tuck back in a little bit you're going to see the wet market which is primarily seafood and butcher and poultry shops. The seafood will be kept on ice and much of it will be alive, which is one reason it's called a wet market. The fish is still actually swimming around in the little container so you know it's fresh.
And that's sort of a theme throughout the wet market. There's not a ton of refrigeration used. Like some of the fish will be on ice, for instance. But in the butcher shops and the poultry shops there's not a ton of refrigeration in use because the meat moves through the system so quickly. I mean, this stuff was on the hoof the day before and it's come over from mainland China and they just move it through and you get it and you either refrigerate it or eat it that day and that's just the way things work. As we learned when talking to our local photographer, Mark Chung. I found this particularly interesting and it challenges my assumptions about what is safe meat handling, obviously.
And that's one of the best things about traveling is seeing how other people do things differently. For instance the chicken. You want fresh chicken? They got fresh chicken because they're still alive and they will dispatch them and behead them and pluck them for you immediately. So at least you know the chicken's fresh. Once I've popped in and out of the wet and the dry sides, at that point I feel comfortable enough to maybe walk up and start photographing people and making those, like, eye contact gestures. Even if you don't speak the same language, to ask with just your facial expressions if it's okay to photograph someone.
Or just shooting quietly as you're walking down the row and not getting people's attention and making those quiet, sort of, street portraits which I also very much like to do. This one lady I actually asked several times if I could photograph her, because I thought she had a great face. And she declined two or three times and then she was finally like, "Ah, okay." I think she just needed to be asked more than once. She was really cool and I enjoyed taking a quick picture of her. Going from there, what I might like to do occasionally is to slip back between the stalls and just try to disappear for a little while and photograph life as it passes me.
These little areas between the stalls are dark, they're tucked out of the way, and I feel sort of invisible if I can tuck back in there and just shoot quietly. Not move much, my camera's not making a noise. And what I'm doing here is I'm more stalking and just waiting for a picture to come to me really, than just going up and photographing just items in front of my camera. So the idea here is to go ahead and compose and to wait and see how things come together in front of your lens and work on your timing and snapping pictures as there's something tucking, filling in, just about every little area of the picture.
And those are interesting pictures for me. For instance, this man on the bicycle. I think that's a cool picture and it almost works but the vendor in the back looking right at me just kind of spoils it. If he were looking down, I'd be cool with this picture. Maybe a little bit of a different crop. And I like to sit there. And I'm willing to spend maybe 10, 20 minutes to see if something interesting assembles itself in front of the lens. And that's exactly what you're waiting for. It's important to keep a fast enough shutter speed to reasonably stop people and enough depth of field to carry focus from front to back.
So those two things are sort of at opposing points on the camera scale. You want to have a fast shutter speed but you also want to have a closed down aperture, so you're obviously going to balance those things. In the end, I kind of like this picture that's a little tighter. It's not as cluttered as some of the other pictures but I've got something going on front to back, left to right, top to bottom in every part of the frame and I thought that was cool. And no one's eye balling me which is a little disconcerting in this context. So, again, if I can suggest an early outing when you're in Hong Kong, go ahead and find and hit one of the local markets.
Bring your camera, bring your shopping bag, bring a little money, and you can definitely kill three or four birds with one stone. Hopefully one of them not being a chicken.
Before you set out on your travels, make sure to brush up on planning and packing in The Traveling Photographer: Fundamentals.