My Best Photos of 2014

The numbers aren’t good. If we’re talking sheer quantity, in 2012 I shot 18,455 photos, 12,031 in 2013 and just 7,228 in 2014. I put the blame on a full time job, a really long daily commute and a few personal issues – not the least of which was fracturing an ankle and doing major damage to an elbow in a fall in September. All of this added up to shooting far less than I would have liked. Also 2014 was the year in which I totally walked away from trying to do any kind of street photography – I just saw so many horrendously bad examples of street photos on various groups on Facebook that it left a sour taste in my mouth.

Even so, I did come away from the year having shot a few fun events and having some images I quite like. So here’s my year in photography.

In January the band Operator had a CD launch party at Backstage in Central. They were supported by Bank Job and The Sleeves.







Also in January I had a chance to shoot with Hong Kong model Yumi at PASM. Recently she seems to be having some success as a DJ.





In February one of my photos of Hong Kong singer Faye Wan (taken late 2013) was displayed in a photo exhibition in Soho.



I had this idea for a year-long photo project, Hong Kong Women With Tattoos – or Hong Kong Ink, perhaps? It ended up being far more time consuming than I had expected and I was also having trouble finding women with larger tattoos to model for me. I shot Hui in March and this was a fun shoot.





At the end of March, there was a festival of local bands called Friday Night Rocks timed to coincide with the annual Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.This show featured a large variety of terrific Hong Kong bands along with one band from Korea. Below – Hey Joe Trio, Shotgun Politics, Galaxy Express (2), Dr. Eggs.











In April, also for my tattoo project, I shot Ines in the studio. A strong woman with a great story.



Also in April, guitar great Robben Ford played a show in Shatin and I was able to get a “three songs, no flash” pass for that.





At the end of August, I attended Hong Kong’s 2nd International Tattoo Convention.




Just last week, I shot some of the bands appearing at the Wanch at a memorial concert for Hong Kong singer/songwriter Sue Shearman. Sue died from cancer at a crazy young age and the evening was called Well Fuck You Cancer and once again highlighted the amazing diversity of the independent music scene in Hong Kong. Below – Dark Himaya (2), Kestrels and Kites.








So there you have it. I’m hoping that my move to Manila in 2015 will provide more opportunities for shooting. I won’t have a studio affiliation there as I do in Hong Kong but I’m hoping to meet many of the local photographers and to find some clubs that present some unique local bands.

Friday Night Rocks

There’s a new place in town and it’s called the New Central Harbourfront, a huge outdoor area right along the harbor next to the Central Ferry piers.  This week, with the Hong Kong Rugby 7’s in town, they’re holding daily events here as part of what they’re calling HK Fanzone. The opening night featured local star Khalil Fong while Saturday night brought De La Soul back to Hong Kong.

Friday night brought Friday Night Rocks, the first in a series of events celebrating the 10th anniversary of Underground. So for the crazy low price of just HK$150 for advance tickets, you got a festival celebrating the amazing diversity of Hong Kong’s independent music scene (plus a guest band from Korea). The bands that played were:

It was a great night, to put it mildly. Stand-outs for me were Shotgun Politics, Galaxy Express and Dr. Eggs.

Here are a few quick photos. There’s a lot more over at the Friday Night Rocks Gallery Page at Spike’s Photos.








Hong Kong Neon Online Exhibition 香港霓虹招牌

One of the things I always take pictures of as I walk around Hong Kong is neon signs. I have this feeling that they are a disappearing art form. These signs form a big part of our image of Hong Kong and we take them for granted.


I’ve heard that the government no longer issues licenses to erect these huge signs hanging over the street, so a new shop that wants to put up one of these beauties can use an existing structure, or perhaps rent one from a nearby landlord that doesn’t want to use it for himself (I’ve heard that Coyote bar in Wanchai pays a huge monthly rent for their sign).




And then you have places like Tsui Wah, the restaurant chain that had some of the most elaborate neon signs.


, and for some reason has been “modernizing” by replacing those signs with newer ones using LED lights.



(Not bad but not quite the same thing, eh?)

I’ve thought about driving around at night to various older districts in HK and looking for signs and photographing them, but it’s one of those things I’ve just never gotten around to.

So I was quite pleased to get an email from someone at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

Being the first of its kind in such a large scale in Hong Kong, the online exhibition Mobile M+: NEONSIGNS.HK to be launched on 21 March 2014 will celebrate a key feature of the city’s streetscapes by exploring, mapping and documenting its neon signs – while inviting the public to upload images of their favourite examples from throughout Hong Kong.

A crucial component of the NEONSIGNS.HK website will be a moderated crowd-sourcing element, a “Neon Map” through which anyone and everyone will be invited to collectively map and share images and stories online of existing neon signs from throughout Hong Kong.

I am thus writing to seek your action for the exhibition by sharing photo(s) of your favourite Hong Kong neon signs (香港霓虹招牌). Please kindly send us your work with a caption and/or a short paragraph of story. There is no limitation on the number of photo(s) for submission. Your work will be uploaded to our site before its launch on 21 Mar. Once it is launched, your work in the site can be reached by estimated 80,000 visitors during the exhibition period from 21 Mar to 30 Jun 2014

 So I’ve sent in a few photos for this. You can too!
neon poster_finalized

Click on the poster to see it larger. You can submit photos for the web site via Instagram, using the hashtag #HKNEON.  The web site goes live on March 21st and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’ve done. I’m also happy that this part of Hong Kong will at least be preserved as photographs.



The Rolling Stones in Macau

The Rolling Stones came to Macau on March 9th, playing at the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Hotel. Why Macau instead of Hong Kong, when HK’s Asiaworld Arena is a bit larger? One can only assume that the Venetian is being more aggressive in going after major acts and probably offering them a larger financial incentive.

I tried to get a photo pass for the show, something that I knew was futile since all I can claim is a couple of web sites. But my mom knows Keith’s manager and met Keith a couple of times My mom doesn’t like any rock & roll at all, including the Beatles.  She’s probably met more superstar rockers than I ever will though, and Keith is probably the only one she ever liked. Go figure that! So I tried to work the connections but the wires got crossed and somehow the Stones’ crew thought I was asking for a pass for Abu Dhabi. Once that finally got cleared up, they told me they were already OD’ing on bona fide media requests for Macau and with limited space, the answer was sadly no.  Fortunately I had already bought tickets for me and my wife.

Top tickets were going for HK$15,000 – a “VVIP” package with all sorts of perks (meeting the Stones was not one of them though). I got something at the lower end of the scale, around $1,100 or so including ferry tickets, and that got us seats midway up the first of two risers in the back. But since it’s a relatively small hall, it didn’t feel like I was sitting in “heaven,” as it did when I saw the Stones for the first time at Madison Square Garden in 1969 (yes, it was before my wife was even born) – our seats were in the 2nd to last row in the top level opposite the stage – and there were no video screens in those days.


So how was the show? Let’s keep in mind that Mick and Keith are each 70 years old. Charlie is 72 and Ronnie is a relative spring chicken at 66. They’re aided and abetted by pretty much the same musicians for the past couple of decades – Darryl Jones on bass, Chuck Leavell (from the Allman Bros) on keyboards, Tim Ries and the great Bobby Keys on horns, Bernard Fowler and the amazing Lisa Fischer (watch 20 Years of Stardom 20 Feet From Stardom to learn more about her) on back-up vocals. And carrying on from the 2013 tour, Mick Taylor is brought out at some intervals as a “special guest.”  The show lasts almost exactly two hours and is mostly high energy. I remain astonished at how Jagger at 70 can be singing, running and dancing for two hours like that.

Rolling Stones Macau

I didn’t write down a set list or anything so working from memory here. In past tours the Stones have included some special mini-sets halfway through – acoustic stuff or blues covers – and there was none of that last night.  The set was pretty similar to the ones you’ll find in 2013 videos from Glastonbury and Hyde Park.

On the down side, I was disappointed that the only song they played from Exile was Tumbling Dice. Keith’s 2 song mini-set did not include Happy and I wasn’t happy about that.  Also, given their huge back catalog and the limited amount of time on stage, I wasn’t thrilled that they feel they needed to include relative clunkers like Doom and Gloom.

DSC01407But there’s no doubt in my mind that Midnight Rambler was a strong highlight. See that photo of Micks Jagger and Taylor going toe to toe with each other and trading licks? I don’t care how rehearsed it was or wasn’t, the show could have benefitted a whole lot more from this sort of interplay.



And Lisa Fischer on Gimmer Shelter? Oh my golly gosh. She’s one of the few singers around who could top Merry Clayton’s performance on the original track.

DSC01434Otherwise it was pretty much the usual suspects played – opening with Jumping Jack Flash, closing with Satisfaction, and Start Me Up, Paint It Black, Sympathy for the Devil, Honky Tonk Women, Brown Sugar. A Hong Kong chorus joined them onstage for You Can’t Always Get What You Want, a nice touch.



So, all in all, despite my unhappiness with the lack of Happy, in 2014 the Stones are far better in concert than they have a right to be. I enjoyed pretty much every moment of the show and never felt an urge to say, “hey, let’s head for the exit now and beat the crowds.”



Now, some disasters, as such.

How is it that you have a concert with somewhere around 8,000 people attending and there are just two tables selling merchandise? Of course this is the kind of crowd that doesn’t mind spending HK$300 and up for a t-shirt and people were buying merch by the armload. Except that the lines were so ridiculously long and moved so slowly that I just gave up. I figure if I really want a shirt, probably there’s a way to get it online.

The other problem is that you come out of the Cotai Arena and you’re thirsty and want a drink and the first place you hit is the McSorley’s bar and there’s already 1,000 people standing outside waiting for a beer. Then there’s the Cafe Deco and a few fancy schmancy restaurants surrounding the casino floor. The food court in the mall is of course closing down by now, nothing else is within easy walking distance, and the queues for busses and taxis are thousands of people long. There’s not even a coke machine anywhere in sight, let alone something like a 7-11. All you can reasonably do is head out to the casino floor where there are carts with small plastic bottles of water to grab. We gave up, got on the shuttle bus to the Cotai ferry terminal, which is completely unlike the Macau terminal. There’s no shops or restaurants or services there at all. After you’ve lined up for an hour to get in to immigration and get your seat assignment, finally there’s a tiny drinks machine in the waiting room.

Last but not least, some photography notes. I knew there was no way I could get my Nikon D800 and 70-200mm lens past the bag check.  So I went with my Sony RX10 and its wonderful 24-200mm F2.8 lens.  All of the photos above came from that.  Given our distance from the stage, the figures were not much more than mere points – so the spot metering wasn’t effective here. I was trying not to use the rear LCD screen, just in case (this has been a problem at previous concerts) so I wasn’t checking results very often. It did eventually dawn on me that underexposing by 2 stops would give me the exposure I wanted.

I was working at manual, with shutter at 1/200th of a second and aperture at F2.8. The rear projection screen was so bright that the last shot is at ISO 400, and other shots were at similar relatively low ISO’s. Had I been checking that rear screen more frequently, I might have moved the aperture to F5.6 or F8 and gone with a slightly faster shutter speed.

Also note that when I was trying to focus on small stuff – the performers running around the outer ring rather than that rear screen, a lot of times the camera took a long time hunting for focus (and frequently didn’t find it till the 2nd or 3rd attempt).

On the other hand, I also tried shooting a video of one complete song – the last one, Satisfaction. Handheld and shakey, I’m still impressed with both the video and audio quality of the result, which I’ve uploaded to Youtube for people to check out. Go to around the 2:50 mark when I’m zooming in on Keith on the runway – I’m presuming there’s digital zoom involved there and the quality is still quite reasonable. If I’d snuck in a monopod, I could have really had something nice.



What Does This Mean?

I’ve got this friend who goes by the name of William Banzai Seven. I’ve written about him here once before.  WB7 does these vicious satirical political images, here’s his latest:


He gets his stuff published on this site and all of his images are embedded from Flickr.  The result is that he’s getting upwards of 2 million views of his images per day.  In his case, this is how he earns his living, by selling posters of his stuff. And so, most excellent for him indeed. He’s found his niche and found a way to exploit it and he’s doing very well and I’m extremely happy for him.

We had lunch a couple of days ago and he said that he would do a post embedding one of my photos. Tonight he sent me an email with a link and the words “blast off.” He embedded my Flickr photostream into one of his posts and here is the result after just 30 minutes:

Fullscreen capture 362014 10305 AM


The image is small so let me explain to you. I don’t pay a lot of attention to my Flickr account. I only upload randomly to it. That means that I usually get somewhere between 0 and 100 image views per day. A few days ago, when I uploaded the photo of the (tastefully) nude tattooed lady I shot over the weekend, I got almost 1500 views that day. This was organic as I did nothing to promote this photo on social media or anywhere else.

So within about 30 minutes of his posting the link, I hit 6,175 views. I don’t know enough about embedding frames from Flickr to be able to say that 6,175 people actually viewed or paid attention to my photo on that page. But if you check these stats:

Fullscreen capture 362014 11027 AM


you can see that roughly 500 people out of those 6,175 appear to have actually clicked on the photo and scrolled through my photostream – or at least the first 8 pictures, which are my recent uploads (I think this batch represents my first uploads there in at least a month, maybe two).

What do all these views represent to me? Right now I have no idea. I mean, it’s nice.

But the thing is – I don’t really expect any of those people to start visiting my Flickr page on a regular basis. (I haven’t gotten a single email so far “x is now following you on Flickr.”) I’m not selling images through Flickr. If it got people to come to my web site, that would be nice I suppose – the latest images are all watermarked with the URL I don’t have any ads on that site. I don’t have any affiliate links (click here and buy this Leica and I’ll get 10 bucks, that sort of thing). But the stats for Spike’s Photos aren’t showing any bump.

I am selling “me”, my services as a photographer, I suppose. But in the past year I haven’t really done any promoting of those services due to limited time.

So what do all these views mean? Will I get emails asking to buy prints of my pictures or asking me to shoot something on a professional basis? Time will tell. I’m not counting on it.

I don’t want to come off as ungrateful because it’s quite the opposite. I’m thrilled so many people are looking at my images and I hope at least some of them like what they see. It’s just that if there’s a way for me to seize this opportunity and build on it, so far I’m not seeing what that way might be.  Anyone have any suggestions?

I kind of feel like Barkhad Abdi must be feeling at the moment. Everyone probably thinks he’s riding high right now. After all, he went from never acting at all to stealing scenes from Tom Hanks and getting an Academy Award nomination. But he was paid just $65,000 for his efforts and is living in L.A., unemployed, broke, crashing at friends’ places and hoping that something will come of all this newfound fame. Will he get a second acting job that confirms his talents soon? Or will he go back to being just another chauffeur?

So I think I’ll head to bed soon. I’ll check my stats in the morning of course. (I’m approaching 11,000 views after 1 hour, with over 800 views apiece for those 8 most recent photos).

Oh, postscript – I’ve had a number of responses to my previous post seeking more tattooed women to pose for me. I hope to schedule some more shoots in this series soon. I do feel that this could go somewhere but even if it doesn’t, it feels nice to have come up with a theme for the year, rather than just doing the random stuff I’ve done in the past.

Wanted: Women in Hong Kong with Tattoos – Hong Kong Ink

I’ve been trying to come up with a theme for a photo project for awhile and finally I have it – Hong Kong Women With Tattoos. HKWWT? Probably there’s a better name out there. Maybe Hong Kong Ink? I kind of like that!  Hong Kong Ink™®©. (or is that already taken? The URL is registered but redirects to a tech company. hkink is also taken. Hmmm.)

The first lady in this series is Chris B, known to all as the tattooed godmother of Hong Kong indie rock. I shot her at PASM a couple of years ago and we’ll probably do another shoot this spring.



The second in the series is Faye Wan, whom I met when she was singing lead with HK indie band Hazden. Loved her voice, loved her look and was thrilled when she agreed to come to my studio to pose for some portraits.


I used this shot of Faye in a recent group exhibition in a gallery in Soho:

SHS_8604-Edit-3-2I shot the third lady in this series just this past Saturday, a woman named Hui.

SHS_0576This photo of her is my highest ranked photo on 500px to date:



As always, more photos can be found over at Spike’s Photos.

So … if you are a woman in Hong Kong, of any age and of any ethnic background, and you’ve got tattoos, I’d love to shoot some portraits of you and your ink. (If you’ve got a friend who fits the bill, please pass this info along.)  Preferably you can come to my studio, PASM Workshop, but if not other arrangements can be made. Please get in touch via the email link found on the upper right corner of this page.


SCRAPED – Coming Next Week!



SCRAPED, a photography exhibition, is coming. (Click on the image above to see it larger.) I’ll be joining with seven other Hong Kong photographers for an exhibition.  The exhibition is free and will be at Culture Club, 15 Elgin Street, Soho, Hong Kong.  The exhibition runs from February 5th through March 1st. There’s an opening party on February 5th, starting at 6:30 PM and open to all.

The photos on display will all be for sale, and a share of the proceeds will be donated to SoCO (Society for Community Organization).

SoCO (Society for Community Organization) was founded in 1972 and is a registered non-profit making non-governmental human rights organization for the underprivileged.

SoCO is active in lobbying for an improvement in the lives of the 1.3 million Hong Kong people who live below the poverty line – predominantly comprising the cage and cubicle dwellers, the single elderly, new immigrant women, children living in poverty, street-sleepers, people with mental illnesses, low-paid workers, refugees and ethnic minorities. SoCO also undertakes original social policy research, lobbies Hong Kong decision-making bodies and organizes direct action events.

The other photographers in the exhibition are Jonathan van Smit, Liam Fitzpatrick, Lai Yat Nam, Yolanda van der Mescht, Timothy Cheng, Kenny Yung and Scotty So.  It’s a small gallery so I’m told there will only be one photo from each photographer on display.  You can see more details at the Facebook event page here.

Here’s a collage of my work that the event curators put together to help publicize the show.

collageI hope you’ll all have time to come by and check out the show!


Crazy Busy

There’s just not enough time in the day (or the night).

I’ve been so busy with various things (not least of which is getting ready for a trip to London and Paris; I leave tomorrow) that it didn’t dawn on me today that I’ve never really finished going through my shots of Faye Wan. I picked one out for an upcoming exhibition but then never returned to the rest of the photos. So I’m doing that bit by bit. (Did I mention here yet that I’ve got a photo in a group exhibition running in a gallery in Soho next month? I do.)



Friends asked me to shoot their wedding. I’m not a wedding photographer by any means but I think I did a fairly respectable job of it.

Then I was hired to shoot a CD launch party, complete with live sets from three bands. That was a paid gig, so I had no excuse not to finish that one off quickly.



And earlier tonight we had a bit of fun at our studio, PASM Workshop.  It was supposed to be a competition amongst the partners, all shooting a model at the same time and seeing who would come away with the best shot – with the loser buying dinner. We never got to the competition bit, we just shot and then filled our bellies.  During the shoot I was asked why I stopped shooting so soon. Well, I knew I already had some good stuff and there’s only so many hours in the day (and night).



Now I don’t consider myself a commercial photographer. If I was, like my buddy Richard Chen, then I’d be looking at every detail and making the sorts of minor adjustments to skin tones and texture that only a trained eye would notice. I did try something different here though – bringing out the eyes a bit more. I also have to say that we have a great crew. With this model (Yumi), Harris and Victoria setting up the lights, Tim on hair and Ash doing make-up, it made my work easy – and fun.

As always, more to come.


Cathay Camera Club Exhibition This Weekend

This year I joined the Cathay Camera Club. I attended a few meetings first to check it out and found a great group of people to hang out with every other Monday night. So I finally broke out the checkbook and joined just in time to be able to participate in their upcoming annual exhibition.

2013 Flyer


It starts this Friday night and runs through the weekend at the HK Cultural Centre. I’ll have 3 images on display and there will also be images from more than 20 other photographers. I think it’s going to be a great show – and it’s free! I’ll be there Friday night for the opening and also will be there late Saturday afternoon. Come check it out!

P.S. If you’re into photography as a hobby or student or semi-pro, this is a great place to meet like-minded people. Check out the web site and then come to one of our meetings, free, to see if it might be for you.