Hong Kong through the lens of city street photographer, James Sin

Hong Kong through the lens of city street photographer, James Sin
Source: James Sin

The renowned photographer Ansel Adams once said, “Photography is an austere and blazing poetry of the real.”

The first camera photograph was produced in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce of his view from his workroom in France. To produce and view the final product required an exposure time of about eight hours. Compared to the matter of seconds it takes us now to view the photos we’ve taken, it’s evident that photography has come a long way.

Photo editing and the manipulation of photographs also goes way back. Photographers used to edit the film negatives manually with ink to achieve the intended effect. It was essential that even the lighting of the room in which the negatives were altered was precisely maintained and didn’t affect the negatives unintentionally. Fast forward to today, and dark rooms are no longer necessary for creating amazing photographs.

Technology has advanced, and we’re now gifted with convenient software that allows easy digital retouching and manipulation. Additionally, photographers can communicate even more meaning and subtext through the medium through editing. By enhancing and diminishing aspects of a photo, the photographer has artistic control over the final image and how it may be seen.

James Sin, a Hong Kong-based photographer, is exploring in his own way the medium of photography and the possibilities of photo editing through his art. TMS met with Sin to learn more about his career and how he perseveres pursuing his passions despite the ongoing pandemic.

James Sin’s journey to pursuing photography

The first iPhone, released in 2007, could connect to Wi-Fi and included a camera, although not of the best quality – especially compared to what we are used to today. However, starting from the iPhone 4, a front camera was installed, and new opportunities for people to take photographs with mobile technology became commonplace.

The iPhone camera continued to develop and improve in quality each year, starting from the iPhone 4S, where the camera resolution met eight megapixels, an upgrade from the previous model’s four megapixels. The release and capabilities of the iPhone 5 finally piqued Sin’s interests and led him to pursue photography.

“The cool thing about smartphones is that you can basically capture anything at any moment, so I could start taking photos of anything – from automobiles to scenery to animals,” Sin explains. Sin’s portfolio encompasses a range of city street imagery, cityscapes, urban landscapes and portraits.

Sin found a passion for photography by understanding photography as a universal language.

“I was particularly fond of how powerful[ly] a good photo can impact your life and inspire others. Not only could [it] remind you of an event, the moment … it communicates with two people via this seemingly universal language.” explains Sin.

He adds, “I also realized very early my deep appreciation towards arts and, more generally, aesthetic, pleasing items or objects. I thought photography could fulfill part of, if not all, of my inner passion.” Getting into photography was a natural next step for Sin in pursuing his passion for the visual arts.

Looking at the bright side, he elaborates on the effects of COVID-19 on his career and perspective as a photographer in Hong Kong. “Little did I know before that this place is such a gorgeous city with its distinctive cultural identity.”

“I started scenery photography in 2020 after stepping in my gears to a full frame camera and, fortunately and unfortunately, because of COVID I got to experience and appreciate more of Hong Kong,” Sin explains.

Exploring styles

Sin primarily uses Instagram to share his work. “Instagram is such a great community that brings people with a shared interest together, and that’s what I meant – our photography is like a universal language. [It’s] a fantastic platform to showcase my work and an opportunity to get feedback from my community.”

Sin is still finding his style, exploring different genres through both shooting and editing. “I’m sort of a guy that likes to try out new things,” he reflects. “So I would like to say that I currently don’t have a particular style. Photography contains a lot of things, and I’m still learning more about it.”

Editing is an experimental process, and new ideas come to Sin often while retouching his work. “Mostly, my pictures were edited by mixing a variety of filters, colors and exposures. And the process is just like editing a piece of hardware to do its best performance,” he says.

For example, much of Sin’s Hong Kong photography is enhanced to highlight the contrast between the road and streetlights above. By focusing the viewer’s eye on the bright lights, the aesthetic contrast intensifies the vibrancy of nights out on the street in Hong Kong.

Finding events and subjects to photograph seemingly comes naturally to Sin. “When I do street photography, I usually will plan a route on Google Maps and mark down places that I’m interested in, and then I’ll go photograph them one by one,” he explains.

Sin’s advice for aspiring photographers

As a photographer who’s still exploring different photography styles, Sin emphasizes the importance of learning from others and accepting and even actively seeking out new themes and aesthetics.

“It’s always helpful to get inspiration from your fellow photographers,” Sin advises. “Go to art exhibitions or galleries, check out other people’s work, train up your sense of aesthetic and be open-minded to new ideas.”

So, what’s next for Sin? He plans to continue exploring different photography styles by focusing on client work alongside his own ideas. Sin also has a few specific genres and styles he’d like to explore more extensively this year. “I wanted to try out, maybe, macro photography and landscape, which is … I’m not really good at,” he admits.

To see more of Sin’s work, check out his online portfolio on Instagram (@sinery_photography).

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