Street Photography in Helsinki

Helsinki is a marvelous city, especially in spring or at the beginning of summer. The daily life scenes are also interesting and surprising when walking through the Finnish capital. That’s why, doing street photography in Helsinki is a perfect experience. On the negative part, people are much more aware of cameras and photographers (as around Europe). Nevertheless, I never had any bad experience in Finland.

Panning shots in Helsinki

Helsinki, despite being the capital of a European country also loves to take things on the slow side. As such, many scenes are perfect for panning shots. Many Finns love bicycle riding, and these make perfect subjects for panning shots. In this case, the lady was carrying shopping bags of Marimekko, which made it the perfect symbol of Finland.

Finnish lady on bicycle in Helsinki
A Finnish lady is riding a bicycle in Helsinki center

You can also try your hand at people walking, but in this case, people should be walking parallel to the plane of your camera.

Finnish fashionista in Helsinki
FInnish fashionista in Helsinki

This allows to make street photography a bit more interesting by introducing a dynamic element in your pictures.

On very rare occasions, you can come across the perfect scene, if you take the time to change your settings quickly. Like this old car which was roaring near to Tuomiokirkko square. I just had the time to switch to Tv (time priority mode) which was set up on 1/30s and catch the shot. As luck would have it, a piece of Tuomiokirkko showed up in the picture, hence providing the context.

Old car near Tuomiokirkko
An old car rushing through Tuomiokirkko

Street scenes

Another way of shooting street photography is of capturing street scenes. Sometimes, you can happen across some unexpected scenes, such as these two Thai girls near the Helsinki harbour.

Two Thai girls in Helsinki
Two Thai girls captured in Helsinki

Looking around you, and having an eye for structure and leading lines can also give some interesting results. Like in this result, where two girls were taking their pic on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko.

Two girls on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko.
Two girls on the stairs of Tuomiokirkko

These shots are pretty easy to get, they just involve your paying attention to your surroundings. Then, if you have models around, you could also try some interesting shots. Like this pic, where Mitchy and Maria-Sophia were posing while a seagull took flight above their heads.

Before the Tuomiokirkko
Arriving in Helsinki: before the Tuomiokirkko

On the street, you can also try to contrast fixed subjects and moving objects such as trams. Here a shot also near Tuomiokirkko.

Mitch and Maria-Sophia
Mitch and Maria-Sophia in a side street near Tuomiokirkko

This technique allows to distinguish your subjects from the background, suggesting movement and also, at the same time, isolating the fixed subjects. If you want to try this technique in a crowd, which would work also nicely, you must try using a tripod to guarantee the lack of movement. Ideally, I would also deactivate the vibration reduction system on the lenses if any when using a tripod, otherwise, you will have micro-movement on your lens.

In short, Helsinki is rife with street photography opportunities. Just go out and shoot!

Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki harbour
Maria-Sophia at the Helsinki Harbour

 

Barefoot biking from Shatin to Plover Cove… an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscape!

Last week-end, a friend of mine, Matthew, took me around on a bike ride, from Shatin to Plover Cove. The interesting part of this bike ride is that the whole ride takes place on biking lanes and in a very lovely seaside atmosphere. It is also an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscapes on the way, as the whole area has some gorgeous views.

Renting a bike

Renting a bike is very easily done near the river, in Shatin. The total price is about 60 HKD for a whole day. You can also rent “family bikes” (sort of 4-wheeled bikes for several persons to ride). All you need to do is to leave your id card information.

As I run and hike now more or less regularly barefoot, I decided to go for biking barefoot. Obviously, the pedals of a mountain bike do leave a dent, but my feet have become sufficiently conditioned now, not to suffer an exaggerated inconvenience.

After that, as long as you follow the coastline, it is an easy scenic ride along Tolo Harbour. Along the way, you can come across some interesting sights. Like for example, the wonderful Tsz Shan monastery.

 

Tsz Shan Monastery

This monastery is quite recent, as it was completed only in 2015. Its main feature is the statue of the goddess of mercy, Guan Yin. At 76 meters tall, this white bronze statue towers now over the Tolo harbour, being a recognizable landmark. The monastery is quite popular, to the point that it enforces a strict online booking policy to visit it. If you want to enter, bookings must take place at least one month in advance.

Tsz Shan Monastery
The statue of Guan Yin at Tsz Shan Monastery

The other way of taking a peak inside this monastery, is to fly a drone above or around, which is what I did with my Mavic Pro. The monastery was built thanks to financing from Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in Hong Kong. It was even rumored that the Guan Yin statue would be his tomb in the future, but he denied the story.

I also filmed the various places we visited, from Tsz Shan Monastery to Plover Cove:

 

Plover Cove

Plover Cove is another interesting spot, pretty much at the end of the 30-kms ride from Shatin. Originally, a piece of Tolo Harbour, this portion of the sea was drained in order to make it a reservoir of freshwater for Hong Kong. Its dam is reputed for having been the greatest such work at the time of its construction (in the 1960s). Today, the place is an ideal vacation spot for many hongkongers who enjoy riding bicycles on the dam, or flying kites.

Plover Cove reservoir
Plover Cove, with on the left the freshwater side and on the right the sea

Of course, I had to take a “dronie” with Matthew on that occasion.

Plover cove dronie
A “dronie” of Matthew and me on Plover Cove reservoir dam

Tolo Harbour is also used for quite a number of nautical sports. Some people use a sailing board, others prefer waterskiing. Here, you can see a group practicing sailing board with the Tsz Shan monastery appearing in the background.

Tolo Harbour
Sailing Board in Tolo Harbour

 

Getting back

After the exhilarating 30 kms ride to Plover Cove, now came the time to ride back! Although the path was as flat going as coming back, of course, muscles started feeling the effort.

Also, if you can do it at all, do leave in the morning. In the afternoon, plenty of people who do not know to ride start appearing and are a real hazard on biking paths. In that, the return was rather more stressful than the first leg of the trip.

Once we got back to Shatin and returned the bikes, my feet were slightly tender from biking for several hours barefoot. I thus decided to go home barefoot. And obviously, this involved the challenge of taking the MTR… barefoot!

Barefoot in the MTR
The escalator does not feel painful at all, contrary to what you might expect.

I went barefoot all the way, until home. Most people didn’t look at my feet, those who did, didn’t care. I was in a sportive attire, so I guess this attracted less attention too.

The reason for doing this was partly to challenge my own comfort zone, partly also to test my limits too. I did use a public toilet in Shatin, but I wore my sandals (could not conceive walking in the urine of others).

Nevertheless, the whole experience was interesting and liberating. I might swear I had more looks from other bikers on my biking barefoot than while in the MTR!

After the exercise, my glutes were quite tired as it had been quite a few years since I had done a long bike ride (I used to ride for long distances in Belgium). But this shows the different facets of Hong Kong. A city where biking or hiking is just a few MTR stations away from the urban sprawls of the center.

 

 

Daytrip to Cijin island

On my last day in Kaohsiung I completed one of my goals, namely take a daytrip to Cijin island. Located barely 10 minutes away by ferry from the mainland, Cijin island is truly a destination to recommend if you are in Kaohsiung. The bucolic atmosphere makes it a lovely traveling destination. Although you cannot swim in the ocean (the red flag is permanently up, probably because of strong riptides), walking in the warm black sand and having your feet in the sea is as relaxing as it gets.



 

Getting there

To get there, you must take the MRT until Sizihwan station where you take exit 1. When you get out of the station (easy, follow the signs pointing to the ferry), you must walk on the main street, then take left at the second or third street. The ferry itself is pretty cheap, about 15 NT$ if you are on foot, and 50 NT$ if you are with a bicycle. Obviously, your best bet is to grab a city bike from the station just near to the ferry pier and take it with you on the ferry. Cijin island, although small, is best covered on bike (it is also the perfect way to enjoy the place).

Other solutions are to hire a local taxi or rickshaw (taxis, I heard, charge up to 300 NT$ to tour you around, which is probably the best way of seeing everything comfortably, but takes away a huge chunk of the fun of biking in the fresh sea breeze).

Rickshaws on Cijin island
Rickshaws available for hire on Cijin island

The beach: no swimming!

Cijin beach has apparently a permanent red flag, probably due to strong currents. This didn’t mean some courageous surfers didn’t attempt to ride the (low) rolls.

Surfer on Cinjin island
A surfer tackles the strong currents on Cijin Island

As to me, I did a Periscope from the beach, sharing a bit the lovely weather and holiday atmosphere I was into. I waded into water to refresh myself (despite being only 25° C, the reverberation from the sea and the sand were quite hot).

Seawater on feet
An incredibly relaxing feeling with fresh seawater bathing your feet.

The black sand is quite visible on your feet, but there are water fountains around to rince your feet. The annoying thing about the beach is that you should beware when walking on the local grass or herbs. There are some quite spiky thorns embedding into your feet (but since my feet were already accustomed to barefoot running and walking, no skin broken for me).

A “rainbow chapel”

A little further from the beach, there is a shellfish museum, and something they call a “rainbow chapel”, with a sculpture of two seahorses kissing.

Seahorses
Two seahorses kissing near the “Rainbow chapel”.

Further down the island, you can see a wind farm. Supposedly installed to promote green electricity, I doubt the small installation can be sufficiently efficient to produce electricity for the whole island, let alone a few houses.

Wind farm
The wind farm of Cijin island

 

Humble shots

But the beauty of Cijin island is that you need not limit yourself to the “official” attractions.

Sometimes, you must not hesitate to take a close look at even ordinary things… Here, some poor flowers on the beach, providing a colorful touch on a beach otherwise devoid of activity or focus points.

 

Cijin island beach
Sometimes, the most humble subjects also bring a touch of color… here some wild flowers on the beach.

Otherwise, other points of interest can be the usual debris found on the beach. Here, I believe black and white provides a better focus on the structure and composition of the picture.

Beach debris Cijin island
Beach debris in Cijin island

Normally, a daytrip to Cijin island does not involve staying at a hotel on the island itself as it is so close to Kaohsiung. Nevertheless, there are a couple of hotels on the island, but I would not advise staying there with the choice available in Kaohsiung itself.

Taiwanese lunch

On the way back, I did a stop at a local restaurant to enjoy some chicken with rice. It was interesting to watch them prepare the chicken behind the scenes.

Restaurant in Cijin island
A nice little restaurant on the way to the ferry harbor.

The food, while simple, was delicious.

Chicken with rice
A simple but delicious chicken with rice

And finally, it was time to head for the last time to my hotel and pack my belongings to head to the airport.

 

Kaoshiung Airport
The wings of Kaohsiung Airport

How to get there?

Cijin island is easy to reach. Just grab the MRT (orange line) until the station KRT Sizihwan. From there, exit 1. Then you walk until the second or third road turning left which leads straight to the ferry harbor. There, climb on the ferry (obvious!).

 

Encountering Taiwanese photographers near “Love River”

After I finished my barefoot hike in Shoushan national park, I went back to the hotel, refreshed myself and then, went right back out! In fact, the goal was to visit a place I had seen while returning on bike back to Aozhidi MTR station: the Love River. And that’s where I encountered two young Taiwanese photographers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Biking along “Love River”

A real iconic feature of Kaohsiung, the “Love River” is a place where couples come for a lovely evening stroll, and despite the river being very polluted, it is a beautiful setting.

Love river
Love river, its dilapidated buildings and its flower-covered banks.

While the motionless river (actually, a canal) may seem romantic, it is however also the sign of a lack of life. There is no fish hopping in the water or the habitual signs of aquatic life. This can be explained by the fact that, for a long time, industrial waste from Kaohsiung was thrown back into this canal.

Today, efforts are being made to cleanse the canal, but it will still take some time…

Love river's banks
The banks of love river in Kaohsiung are an ideal place for strolling or riding a bicycle

During the day, “Love River” is charming enough, especially as flowers still adorned the river despite the closeness of winter.

Beautiful view of love river
The beautiful view on Love river

Coming back at night

Obviously, for a romantic place, the best moment is at night, but I came a bit late, towards 9 PM. There was none of the animation supposed to be (like boat rides, etc). Love river signage

The sign of love river reflecting in the still water are a must shoot!

However, couples were still out strolling on this bridge and with some reason: this place is a very romantic place to come and walk together with your beloved.

Couple on overpass of Love River
A couple takes a stroll on the overpass of Love River in Kaohsiung

 

Later, I moved on the overpass over the road and that is where I met two other Taiwanese photographers, Paul and Jimmy, who were shooting the passing cars in the city. We took some pics, talked (gear, of course!). We then exchanged our respective instagrams and finally, took a common selfie with my camera and the remote.

Photographers selfie
Our selfie with Paul and Jimmy

Night Photography

Obviously, the story would not be complete, if I did not share the picture I took on that bridge…

Kaohsiung by night
The view from the overpass over Kaohsiung by night. Large roads!

While “Love River” is an interesting place for photography, there are not many shops or restaurants around past a certain hour, and by the time we were done with photography, it was already nearing midnight. I had a meal quite late that day, I carried out my barefoot hike, without eating.

I hence took leave from my new friends and while walking towards the MRT station, I found out “The Plus”, a homely little restaurant mainly frequented by bikers at that late hour.

The plus restaurant
A view of the inside of “The Plus”.

I must say that while simple, their menu has some tasty bits, like this cheeseburger (beats Mc Donald’s by a hundred leagues).

A local cheeseburger
A (very) late dinner.

Going back: a bicycle adventure

Obviously, by the time I had finished my dinner, it was too late, as the last MRT had already passed. I then walked from Houyi MRT station to Central Railway station… It was however impossible to use a bicycle to ride through the construction site cutting the direct road to the hotel (Sunduo).

I hired a city bike and started a long ride to the hotel, which took all of one hour. In fact, I had to take several turns to finally join the main road. Despite being tired from the day’s hike, this was quite a pleasant ride. In fact, Kaohsiung has a lot of biking lanes and drivers are considerate, and the temperature was just temperate. Furthermore, the main avenues reserve the right lane for scooters and bicycles, so all in all, even at 1 AM, it is still safe.

I saw quite a number of “spas” and night entertainment places on my way, but mostly at provincial level, so nothing sleazy outside, thankfully. Before a gaming place, I spotted this little LINE car. This proves that LINE has penetrated much more in Taiwan (one of its biggest markets – the app is blocked in mainland China).

Line car
A card decorated with cute line stickers parked outside a gaming arcade in Kaohsiung.

I finally got to the hotel at 1 AM and went immediately to sleep in preparation for another day of exploring in Kaohsiung.

Despite being tired, that first day in Kaohsiung had been more than promising! The next day, I was going to visit the “art pier”