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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

#Hellofrom Hong Kong: Breathtaking Views from Hong Kong’s Highest Peak

2022-06-24
11
885

Hong Kong has a reputation for being a bustling urban city that never sleeps, but the next time you go, why not take a short break from city life and go hiking up Tai Mo Shan? Located in the New Territories region, it can be seen from almost anywhere in Hong Kong on a clear day, and it also provides a breathtaking 360-degree view. Hong Kong-based freelance photographer and cloud lover Carlo Yuen (Instagram:@_852.carlo) shares more, and tells us how he achieved some of his shots. (Photos and text by: Carlo Yuen)

In this article:

 

Tai Mo Shan: A must-go for sea-of-cloud lovers

Standing at 957 metres above sea level, Tai Mo Shan (“Big Hat Mountain”) is the highest peak in Hong Kong. Located in the centre of the New Territories region, it gives a 360-degree panoramic view of many parts of Hong Kong, such as Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, the New Territories, and even Lantau Island. It is also relatively easy to reach—from the Tai Mo Shan Country Park entrance, there is a road that lets you stroll to the summit.

When I first encountered the sea of clouds here, I was indescribably excited. It's incredible that such a magnificent view can be found in Hong Kong. Every year since then, I have been going up Tai Mo Shan about ten to twenty times a year. Standing at the summit, seeing the top of the clouds, gives me great satisfaction—it’s like being on the top of the world! When the sea of clouds appears, it does so over different areas of Hong Kong, so there are always different views to shoot every time. The anticipation of what surprising scene awaits is what keeps me going back again and again, no matter how hard it is.

 

Scene 1: Sunbeams over Hong Kong at dawn

EOS R6, RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM @ 70mm, f/8, 1/640 sec, ISO 200

Crepuscular rays refer to the sunbeams that shine when the sun is below the horizon. They look extremely real when they meet the mist! This is what they look like when you are practically among them. It is rare to see them passing through the mountain, so I knew I had to get a picture.

Consideration 1: Which lens to use?
For the image above, I decided to use the RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM for a tighter shot. It’s also the lens I use for closeups of mountains, especially when they are surrounded by clouds and fog. The other lens I usually bring when I go to Tai Mo Shan to catch the sunrise is a standard zoom lens, the RF24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM, which I use for wider shots.

Consideration 2: What’s special about the scenery?
Besides the crepuscular rays shining through the mist, I also noticed Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the International Commerce Centre, standing out from the cityscape below the mountains, and the proximity between the city and the mountainous countryside struck me. To show these two faces of Hong Kong, I aimed to include all three elements: crepuscular rays, cityscape, and mountains, in the frame.


Consideration #3: Proportion of sky in the frame
There were very few clouds in the sky, so I decided to show less of the sky and more of the mountains and cityscape. This image was created in a single exposure, without using HDR merging.


Tip: Use your histogram to help you get the best exposure

The key to preserving the details in the light lies in getting the correct exposure in-camera. Always record in RAW as it retains the most details. When you are deciding on your exposure setting, check the histogram so that you don’t lose highlight or shadow details. If your camera has it, turning on the Highlight Alert function also helps.

One of the best things about mirrorless cameras like the EOS R5 and EOS R6 is how they allow you to display the electronic level and histogram even in the EVF display so that you can check them as you shoot. On a DSLR, you can only see them when shooting with the rear LCD monitor.

Also see:
3 Camera Features for Handling Highlight and Mid-tone Details
Understanding Dynamic Range: How to Avoid Unnecessary Blown Highlights


Customise your display screen information

I toggle between three shooting display screens so that I get a good view of the scene without details being blocked by shooting information.
(Note: Screenshots below are for illustration purposes and may differ depending on camera model.)

Display screen 1: No information

This is one of the display screens that you can’t edit.

Display screen 2: Histogram and electronic level

On the EOS R cameras, you can choose between two histogram display sizes, ‘Small’ and ‘Large’. The image above shows the ‘Large’ histogram display.

Display screen 3: Shooting information, histogram, and electronic level

This display screen shows detailed shooting information. Alternatively, you can choose to show only the basic exposure information.

 

Scene 2: A dreamy sea of clouds—my personal favourite

EOS R + EF-70-200mm f/4L US II USM @ FL: 113mm, f/8, 15 sec, ISO 800

Can you identify the three different parts of Hong Kong and one iconic landmark in this picture? Click below to reveal!

To me, the most attractive part of Tai Mo Shan is the sea of clouds, which you can see most frequently from winter to spring (December to February). This image, which combines the beautiful twilight before sunrise with a view of the city shrouded in clouds, captures one of the most amazing moments you can experience on Tai Mo Shan.


Know this: Lion Rock—an iconic mountain

Facing southeast on Tai Mo Shan, you can also see Lion Rock, a mountain that resembles a crouching lion when viewed from some areas. If you are lucky enough and there are clouds under Lion Rock, the lion will appear to be bathing in clouds—a scene that attracts many photographers!

EOS 5D Mark IV + EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM @ 200mm, f/8, 8 sec, ISO 200, EV -0.3,
Lion Rock “bathing” in the clouds, as viewed from Tai Mo Shan.

Fun fact: Thanks to a 1970s television drama series and its theme song, the term “Lion Rock Spirit” has become a symbol of the spirit of Hong Kong people.


Tips for nailing a sea of clouds shot

- At twilight when there are city lights, evaluative metering is usually sufficient
With the city lights, the sky and the ground don’t differ much in overall brightness, so evaluative metering usually does a good job.

- Having a bulb timer function helps!
The bulb timer function on the EOS R series cameras is one of my favourite, most frequently used functions. With it, you can easily take long exposures of more than 30 seconds even without a shutter cable.

- Bring an ND filter
When it is brighter, especially after sunrise, you may need one to take long exposures that capture the flow of clouds.

Want to emphasise night scenery amid the sea of clouds? See:
Nailing the Shot: A Sea of Clouds in the City at Night

 

Planning a photography trip to Tai Mo Shan: Tips from Carlo

1. Weather for getting the best cloudscapes: Low wind speed, high humidity

Clouds form when humidity is high, and less wind means they are more likely to gather and stay between the mountains without covering the peaks. If the wind speed is high, not only will it be very cold, you will probably be “walking in the clouds” and unable to see anything else!

I consider it worth taking a chance on Tai Mo Shan as long as the relative humidity is above 90% and the average wind speed is lower than 10km/h. Usually, this happens just after it rains.


Check the Hong Kong Observatory website or app

The Hong Kong Observatory website and app provides useful information that helps photographers decide whether to go to Tai Mo Shan to shoot the sea of clouds. This includes:
- Real-time information on the temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed at or around Tai Mo Shan
- Upper-air weather measurements, updated twice a day at 8am and 8pm
- A southwest-facing weather camera on Tai Mo Shan that shows the view in real time

EOS R + EF70-200mm f/4L IS II USM @ FL:74mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO 100
The sea of clouds is most frequent in winter and spring. This image was shot in spring, and shows part of the road up to the peak.


2. What time should I aim to reach to catch morning twilight/sunrise?

I usually aim to reach the peak in time to catch civil twilight, which starts about 1 hour before sunrise. Sunrise can be as early as around 5.30am in the summer months (May to July) to around as late as around 7am in winter (December to February). Fortunately, the sea of clouds is most frequent in winter and spring when the sunrise is not so early!

EOS R5 + RF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM @ FL: 128mm, f/8, 1.3 sec, ISO 400
The Tsing Ma Bridge that connects the urban areas of the New Territories to Lantau Island, as viewed one misty twilight.


3. What’s the most convenient way to get to the peak?

The closest drop off point to the peak:


If you are coming by vehicle (including bicycle or taxi), the nearest drop-off point to the peak is the Control Gate at the end of Tai Mo Shan Road near the Tai Mo Shan Upper Carpark, indicated above. From there, it takes about 30 to 45 minutes to walk to the highest point. Note that the carpark is small and can get congested, especially on weekends and public holidays.

There is a public bus that stops at Rotary Park. However, it takes 2 hours to hike from the park to the peak, so you might not catch the sunrise even if you take the first bus. For those who want to camp overnight, there is also a campsite in the Rotary Park area.

Also see:
Discover Hong Kong: Tai Mo Shan Rotary Park to Weather Radar Station

Check out this southwest view from Tai Mo Shan in the video below!


Carlo has also shared some landscape photography tips and insights on Hong Kong photography portal DCFever. Click here to read them!

 


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About the Author

Carlo Yuen

Hong Kong photographer Carlo Yuen is deeply passionate about capturing his hometown's scenic landscapes and cityscapes. Particularly captivated by the spectacular view of the sea of clouds and fog on the mountains, he enjoys transcendent moments and the strong sense of awe, joy, and serenity when photographing in nature. He is acclaimed as the “Weatherman” by various photographers who have been deeply impressed by his ability to forecast weather conditions.

Carlo’s magically captured images have won awards in various international photography contests in successive years. His works "Clouded Peak" won a prize in the National Geographic Photo Contest, and "City’s Layers" won 1st place in Chromatic Awards.

Instagram: @ _852.carlo

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