Landscape photographer Vincent Chan on Hong Kong’s exhilarating countryside and how to take great outdoor photos
Written by South China Morning Post (Morning Studio)
Hong Kong outdoor adventure photographer and documentary filmmaker Vincent Chan is often on the move with his cameras. Numerous times a day, he can be seen heading back and forth from the countryside through the mountain ranges, where he captures striking images of mist-shrouded peaks, magnificent sea of clouds and crimson sunsets.
Chan’s energy and enthusiasm for what he does is infectious, but he says he wasn’t always so driven. “When I was younger, I never had a job that lasted more than six months,” he says.
Things changed after he entered a travel competition that invited participants to submit their ‘runaway’ plans. Chan’s proposal was to capture images of Nepal in the aftermath of the devastating April 2015 earthquake. He won, and was rewarded with a funding of HK$20,000 to cover the cost of his trip.
It was through this experience that Chan found himself — and his true calling in life: photography.
One mountain, multiple angles
Chan’s website and Instagram account are full of powerful, breathtaking outdoor images that he took, which demonstrate not just his love for the great outdoors and adventure, but also his talent and devotion to the art of photography.
“To me, landscape scenery offers countless photographic possibilities,” he says. “Even if you’re photographing a mountain, it’s not a single entity; you have to combine a hundred different elements to get the full picture.”
Sometimes, Chan would visit a mountain to document it before the actual photoshoot. He would be carrying two or three different cameras, and a drone to capture different facets of the mountain.
“I usually devote quite a bit of time to look at a mountain from different angles before I decide how to best capture it,” he says. “Observation is an important part of my photography. Perhaps that is the reason why some people think my landscape images look as if they were three dimensional, despite it being just two dimensional.”
“I often start with some aerial shots, and then I’ll set up the tripod to take in half an hour of timelapse videos, before taking more shots along the trail,” he adds.
Photo by Vincent Chan
Best vantage point of Sai Kung’s mountains
Chan can describe each of Hong Kong’s many peaks in animated detail.
“If you want the full view of Sai Kung’s mountains, climb up High Junk Peak, the highest point on the Clear Water Bay Peninsula,” he says. “They call it one of the ‘Three Sharp Peaks’ [along with Castle Peak and Sharp Peak] for a reason. Here, you can enjoy magnificent sunrises and sunsets.”
“The pictures you take here are different every time because of the weather. On a fine, bright day, you can see all the islands in Clear Water Bay; but on a gloomy and cloudy day, you may find High Junk Peak shrouded in clouds for a mesmerising photo.”
Chan likes to stop and take breaks to relax and admire the magnificent views.
Photo by Vincent Chan
“There are different vantage points to appreciate the iconic peak. The best one is from Miu Tsai Tun, which is a hill to the north. I can stay up there for hours just to watch the view change with daylight and the weather,” he says. “The top of High Junk Peak may look narrow and sharp from afar, but there’s actually plenty of space to settle down and chill out.”
“Another thing I love about High Junk Peak is that there are various trails to the south,” he continues. “They lead to different neighbourhoods and villages, so you can wrap up your journey in a different way each time. Head to Po Toi O Chuen in Clearwater Bay to soak up the rustic charm of the village and enjoy fresh seafood on the waterfront — it’s a true reward.”
A physical yet rewarding challenge
Sometimes, Chan has to really challenge himself physically for an assignment. “Once I had to run up High Junk Peak with all my camera equipment in just half an hour to set up in time to capture a trail runner’s arrival,” he says. But he doesn’t mind putting in the hard work, especially if it’s about capturing scenes that bring “a tremendous positive energy to the city”.
The countryside is also where Chan feels most at home, and he admits there are no days off for him when it comes to visiting the great outdoors.
“Hong Kong has so many iconic mountains. You can visit one 50 times and go away with 50 different experiences because the city’s countryside is just so exhilarating,” he says.
5 tips from Vincent Chan to photograph the great outdoors
Observe the light carefully and use it to accentuate scenic details.
Take landscape pictures two hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset to ensure the best contrast in lighting.
Invest in a 200mm-400mm long lens to achieve the “perspective compression effect” — where the distortion, caused by the distance between the camera and the subject, makes the foreground and distant background appear closer together.
Photography is all about practice; you just need to keep trying to shoot images from different angles.
The ever-changing weather can determine the outcome of outdoor photography. Always check the weather forecast before making a trip.
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