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How to Take Photos like Photographer Fan Ho

Who Was Fan Ho?

Fan Ho was born in 1931 in Shanghai, China and began his photography career at the age of 14, when his father gifted him a brownie box camera. He would soon transition from the brownie box camera, to his twin-lens Rolleiflex. The next 14 years of his life would change forever, as he would move to Hong Kong and become an award winning photographer, and film director. He is best known for his street photography, capturing the historical moments of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s.
Photo via u.osu.edu

Fan Ho and Street Photography

Fan Ho excelled in street photography which is the recording of everyday life in public spaces. This form of photography gives way to capturing history, and raw candid moments. Fan Ho's history marker? Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s.

There was rapid industrialization during this era in Hong Kong, which he swiftly captured through his photography. His awe of the streets and people of Hong Kong, show us the possibilities that everyday life can hold for photo opportunities. Within his street photography we can see four main themes of shadows, people, architecture and black and white coloring.

Photo Challenge: Fan Ho's Four Themes

Photo challenges are a great way to push your boundaries, and open creative pathways for other photography projects. We will never be able to mimic Fan Ho’s exact photos, since they were taken at a specific time, place and inspired by Fan Ho’s own creative thought. But we can use his main themes as guides on our own creative journey. Before we take a deep dive into his four themes of shadows, people, architecture and black and white coloring, listen to Fan Ho as he walks us through his photos.

“True photographs don’t come from the camera. It comes from eyes, brain, and heart.” - Fan Ho


The best time of day to implement shadows is during dusk or dawn. The angle of the sun allows for dramatic shadows to be casted. Fan Ho orchestrated beautifully crafted images by implementing the shapes created by various shadows. He had an eye for the geometric shapes shadows casted and used them as framing points for people in his images.

'W', Hong Kong 1959

Photo via Ocula.com

'Approaching Shadow', Hong Kong, 1954

Photo via Ocula.com


Through various sources it’s said that Fan Ho would ask his friends to pose, or he would wait hours in one spot to get the right shot. He valued storytelling in his photos which can be seen in every photo including shadows, architecture, and black and white images. People add life to his images, and tell stories of their own through facial expressions, and postures. The best stories can be told through candid shots, or like any writer does, Fan Ho would write his own story by posing his friends.
'Childhood', Hong Kong, 1959
Photo via Ocula.com
'4pm', Hong Kong, 1959
Photo via Ocula.com


Being a photographer in a city like Hong Kong, Fan Ho learned how to use the architecture in his photos. In many photos the buildings are used as a backdrop, or he maneuvers his people in a way to complement the buildings. He embraced the shadows casted by the buildings or the shadows casted onto the buildings. The geometric shapes created by the buildings and shadows were used to create eye catching imagery.
A Play of Light and Shadow, Hong Kong, 1959
Photo via blue-lotusgallery.com
'Back to Back' Hong Kong, 1949
Photo via Ocula.com

Black and White

Fan Ho loved to take photos in black and white. He didn’t like color, as he believed it to be distracting from the story he was telling. His love for shadows, people, and architecture allowed for the black and white coloring to pop. When shooting for black and white photos, contrast, depth and sun are important to create dynamic images.

'Steps in Light and Shade', Hong Kong, 1950/60s

Photo via Ocula.com

"I like the color black. It signifies power and mystery – that rules the world." - Fan Ho

This is just a small glimpse of Fan Ho's work. The physical photos of his work can be found all over the world in various museums. If you are unable to travel we recommend going online to Blue Lotus Gallery.

Gear Recommendations

Telephoto Lens 58mm
The Telephoto Lens is perfect for taking portraits of people, or even architectural sites by allowing for a crisp focused zoom.
Hybrid ND/PL Filters
The Hybrid Filters work perfectly for shooting in black and white, by darkening the black tones, and softening the white tones. 

Now its Your Turn

Fan Ho will always be remembered for his stunning images, and ability to perfect the art of storytelling through photography. We can use his street photography themes of shadows, people, architecture and black and white photography to help guide us in our photography journey. Use his photos as inspiration for what could be, but focus on what moves you. Your authenticity will always be your secret weapon when it comes to any creative endeavor.

"The most important thing in photography is to find your own style and to be true to your own vision." - Fan Ho