Fan Ho – 9 Composition Techniques. Part One.

Fan Ho has captured Hong Kong over the years using a Rolleiflex. Born in 1937, Ho has an important body of work that borrows from his experience as a Hong Kong based film director. You can find out more about him at his website here, and an interview with him here.

I have one of his books, “Hong Kong Yesterday” available here – a great investment in your photography education. He is currently my favourite photographer, and a constant source of inspiration for me every Saturday morning when I have to drag my sorry ass out of bed to get out with the camera.

Ho used the standard 6×6 medium format compositiong offered by the Rolleiflex. Ho then cropped his compositions to suit the vision he had in mind when taking the shot. The large negative size enabled him to do this.

Looking at other photographers’ work helps you understand what is possible, what you might be missing, and what you like that you haven’t quite been able to capture yet. Learning from the masters is a great way to improve and develop your own style. Like any skill, emulation is the first step to learning. Once you have learnt a skill, you can make it your own.

I am not massively interested in interviews with photographers, but prefer letting their work speak for them. “Don’t tell me about your work, show me” is my preferred way of learning – with the exception of street photographers talking about their techniques and learnings. Understanding that Gary Winogrand shot with Tri-X 400 pushed to ISO1200 to ensure he achieved 1/1000th shutter speeds for sharpness and clarity, really challenged my thinking around shutter speeds for photography.

What things have I learnt from studying Fan Ho’s images?

1. Long Shadows

Ho often shoots either first up in the morning or late in the evening – whenever the sun is very low on the horizon. This lengthens shadows to the point of becoming a feature in each of the images. With colour photography, this time of day produces beautifully warm light, but Ho uses it to draw out and emphasize the shadows in black and white.

The Long Shadows add drama and emphasis to the subjects – almost changing the image from a continuous range of tones to a set of well defined solids and highlights.

Long Shadows are also used as a subject “mulitplier” – making a smaller subject more important in the image by adding a size with the shadow. This is particularly effective with silhouetted subjects. A small human subject can be given more prominence in a composition this way without losing a sense of their overall insignificance.

Parrallel lines in the image are often combined with the Long Shadow to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject. Ho often used rail lines to achieve this.

As I now shoot predominantly now only in black and white, it was interesting to see how Ho manipulated “the golden hour” of the sun setting or rising to produce his images.

You can read Part Two of the series here.

Part Three

Part Four

All images featured in this post are the copyright works of photographer Fan Ho.


Fair Use Statement

To the best of my knowledge, I believe I have complied with Australian Copyright Law regarding the use of Ho’s images. The images are being used for under fair use provisions satisfying the following purposes as laid out in the legislation :

  • research or study
  • criticism or review

I receive no financial gain from this site, and have attributed the work to the Author. You can download the Australian Copyright Council guide to “Fair Use” here : fair-dealing-g079v06

If you believe I am incorrect in my assessment, please contact me via the contact form below. As I derive no income from this site, I can’t really afford a lawyer to confirm everything!






  1. Fan Ho – 9 Composition Techniques. Part Two. | Melbourne Street Photography - May 10, 2014

    […] You can read Part One of this series here. […]


  2. Fan Ho – 9 Composition Techniques. Part Four. | Melbourne Street Photography - May 17, 2014

    […] You can read Part One here. […]


  3. Fan Ho – 9 Composition Techniques. Part Three. | Melbourne Street Photography - May 17, 2014

    […] Part One is here. […]


  4. How to Stop Taking the Same Images Over and Over | Melbourne Street Photography - August 24, 2014

    […] An example of an analysis is here. […]


  5. Stop Taking the Same Images Over and Over | Melbourne Street Photography - August 30, 2014

    […] An example of an analysis is here. […]


  6. (Wk 27) Joy is… | Kan Walk Will Travel - February 4, 2015

    […] His work is characterized by unusual perspectives, light funnels, long shadows, intersection of architectural lines and light edges, natural framing, etc. (you can read an informative series on his work by blogger MSPAU, here). […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: