• Matthew Brooks

Featured Photographer - Fan Ho

Fan Ho Is the street photographer that I respect the most. His photographs are exactly what I like about street photography. Street photography is a bit of a love hate relationship for me. I hate doing it because I am no good at it but I love it when it is done excellently. Fan Ho works are the the pinnacle of that excellence.

His use of what are the most basic compositional techniques are sublime. He plays with light and shadow, uses elements to frame subjects and finds shapes and leading lines from the surrounding environment. It just shows that photography doesn't have to be complicated. If done in an aesthetically pleasing way you can take any of these simple techniques to make a stellar photo.


"You wait for the subject that can move you, that can touch your heart, no matter if it’s an old man or an old woman, or even a kid or a dog." ~ Fan Ho


This photo above is a perfect use of light and dark, subject isolation, framing, all captured within the narrow waterways. Waiting for the perfect moment that one person on their boat passed by. I have no doubt that the lights and darks were in fact enhanced in the darkroom. Like modern day digital files photographers enhance their photo with dodging and burning. But this i just to get that image that perhaps the eye and mind could see but the camera could not.

Even though Fan Ho's work looks like fleeting moments in a ever expanding and developing Hong Kong, in fact his photos are a mixture of candid moments and cleverly directed set ups. If out with someone he would utilise them to bring a human element and a point of interest in some compositions that needed something extra.

This photo "Approaching Shadow" is undoubtedly his most famous picture of all. It is however a completely directed photo. In an interview from an article in South China Morning Post he said of the photo, "I saw a white wall near Causeway Bay. I asked my cousin to stand there, and she acted as the girl facing the approaching shadow. I made the composition first, and then I finished it by bringing in the triangular dark shadow in the darkroom. There was no shadow on the wall, actually. It means her youth will fade away, and that everyone has the same destiny. It’s a little tragic."

It is a bit of a shame the shadow was added in, but he was directing the image throughout the process. In directing his cousin and in directing the way the final image came out in the darkroom.

He had his favorite spots to hang out to capture interesting moments. This being a favorite spot of his. Many photos were taken using this location. From different angles, but the diversity of life was always shown. He was photographing the city that he loved.


"Photography is my first love, and also my passion during my whole life." ~ Fan Ho


Fan Ho also didn't stick to one particular crop factor. He cropped or produced images of certain sizes that fit with that particular image. Many people these days are cropping photos so that they fit the dimensions that work best on social media or sticking to the format that the camera produces, usually 3:2. Even when Fan Ho was taking photos back in the 50's and 60's many just stuck to the standard 35mm film format or medium format of the film size. Fan Ho worked to his own tune. Some of his works are square, some landscape, some are in what could be considered an extreme panorama format like his picture Serenity (1964), some very tall and narrow like A Sail (1957).

He won nearly 300 awards, honored by photographic societies across the globe and invited by universities to speak.

Fan Ho is one of the best street photographers there has ever been. There is so much that can be learnt about his photography no matter what your subject matter is. Like Yousuf Karsh who was a master of studio lighting Fan Ho was a master of natural light and utilising it to create compelling pictures.

Thanks for reading. See you again soon.

Sources:South China Morning Post, Fanhophotography.com

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