Last year during a family holiday to Hong Kong, I visited the Hong Kong Peak to see with my own eyes; the beauty of the city sky line.
I discovered the Hong Kong Peak by watching the infamous DRTV videos and their various reviews and camera tests which had taken them up to the Hong Kong Peak at times.
When I saw this view, I had to go!
How I Shot It
The Hong Kong Peak, if any of you ever get to visit this site, is immensely busy! I visited this view twice whilst on holiday to try get a clear shot, however the crowds are incredibly thick each time I was there as many people would like to check out this view.
I made a point of pushing my way to the front to gain the perfect view, which in my opinion is right up against the corner of the balcony. The problem with this vantage point is that everyone recognises that it’s the most ideal spot, so literally everyone is trying to get to the front to see it.
With the crowds being so incredibly thick, I could not whip out a tripod. Even if I dared to use my tripod, my mini £20 cheap plastic travel tripod would not have reached over the railing, and I don’t think it would’ve supported my D800 and 14-24mm f/2.8 very well.
I was left with only one option, and that would be to handhold and lean against the railing for stability.
I fought my way to the front, leaned up against the corner of the railing, rested the camera as central as I could to the corners of the railings, and dialled in my settings.
For night time shots I generally work with a steady tripod, and am able to keep ISO down to a minimum, ISO100-200, dial in my aperture to a sharp f/7.1-f/9, and then I literally drag my shutter as appropriate to gain the correct exposure.
As I didn’t have a tripod, and the conditions not being ideal with the crowd, I had to reconsider my settings as I was either getting really underexposed shots, or shots with motion blur from semi-handholding.
With the D800 being a new camera to me at this point, I had no real life experience with its High ISO Capabilities. I literally purchased this camera at the Duty Free Dixons at Heathrow Airport on the way to Hong Kong, so the camera was 2 days old to me when I shot this.
I was coming from a D7000 and on the D7000, I dare not take the ISO above 1600 as I was trying to maintain more edge detail which could’ve been lost with the extra noise. So without having fully tested the D800, I basically used the same rule of thumb and kept the D800 at a MAX ISO of 800.
With a compromised setting of f/5.6, to allow enough light but keep optimal sharpness, ISO800 to capture as much light with minimal noise, and a 1sec exposure was chosen to get the meter in my camera measured as exposed.
This was the unedited shot straight from the camera.
At this point, the crowd surrounding me began to get a bit too close as they all wanted the position I was in, so I decided to move. It was so crowded on the night I was there, people were beginning to slightly barge me a little, so I decided to move.
In hindsight, I should’ve checked the Histogram before I left the spot as I walked away finding the shot was slightly underexposed.
How I Edited It
It’s unfortunate I walked away from this spot with an underexposed shot; however I am thankful for the power of RAW!
Obviously, we shouldn’t make a habit of ‘Fixing it in Photoshop’, however as I do not visit the HK Peak too often I couldn’t get back to re-shoot, I had to deal with this RAW file.
This is definitely the type of shot that is worthy of a HDR as there is so much dynamic range within this shot. The tree’s all around the bottom edge had no light hitting them, so were basically in pitch black darkness, and the lights from the building were fairly bright, which caused massive shadows around the windows.
Regardless, I only had the one RAW to work with, so I decided to plough through and edit the shot.
I began by adjusting the white balance down from 3600 to 2450 to make the Sky Blue. Due to the exposure being fairly off, I boosted the exposure in Lightroom to +1.50. In order to retain more detail in the areas around the top of the buildings, I pulled the Highlights down all the way to -65 and boosted the Shadows to +100.
Whenever you pull the highlights down and boost the shadows in drastic opposite directions, you lose a lot of contrast in your images, therefore I boosted the contrast to +25.
Next I boosted the Clarity all the way to +100. I boosted the Clarity even further by brushing over with an adjustment brush and pushed it to +100 once more.
As I changed the white balance across the entire image, it gave the trees a tint of blue, so I decided to use an adjustment brush to add a bit more yellow into it, to make the tree’s look a bit more real, however the white balance for the buildings is where I wanted it.
I then used another adjustment brush to brighten up some of the buildings as the dynamic range was just a little too dark for me and then this is the final image.
If I were to have re-shot this shot under the same circumstances, I would’ve probably boosted the ISO to 1600 and lowered the aperture to about f/4 for a better exposure.
However in an ideal world I would’ve loved to have had a ladder and a Tripod simply to get over the top of people’s heads!
A lesson was learned for this shot, and that is “check your histogram!”
My advice to anyone planning on shooting the Hong Kong Peak, is bring a Gorilla Pod as well. If you experience a busy night on the Hong Kong Peak like I did, a Tripod is not practical. Most Travel Tripods would not reach over the railings anyway, and a heavy duty Tripod would take up too much floor space and with the amount of people traffic, it’s probably not ideal to use it.
A Gorilla Pod would have been ideal for me that night as it would have clung onto the edge of the balcony at the corner fairly well, and then maybe I could have went for a HDR shot.
Nonetheless, you have to work with what you have sometimes, and this is my final result which I am actually still very happy with.