Hong Kong Island

The evening after the parade, the city government treated its citizens and visitors to a giant New Year fireworks show in Victoria Harbour, just between the main areas of Hong Kong Island (香港島) and Kowloon (九龍). Throughout the day, large explosive-laden barges anchored themselves just off the pier, fire-fighting boats chugged round them to douse any mishaps and police speedboats skipped to and fro making sure that everything was aimed up. The best vantage point was reckoned to be the Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s equivalent of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, which looked out across the water and had the city skyline as a gorgeous backdrop. I, like several thousand other people, arrived well over two hours early and quickly found that the best spots along the waterfront had been taken by people who’d arrived even earlier. With memories of trying to set up a tripod at the Busan Fireworks Festival still relatively fresh in my mind, I resolved to get a spot as quickly as possible and resist all efforts to move me from it. The roof of the nearby Intercontinental Hotel was out, so I found a really short local photographer (already the the front) and surreptitiously set up my tripod behind him so it could peek over his head.

Hong Kong New Year Fireworks 2010 (13)As things turned out, the gods smiled on my efforts to get a clear shot and a young couple just next to the short photographer left to get some dinner, offering me their place against the safety railings. I quickly set up so that my tripod could still see into the action if they decided to return, but they either found a better spot or couldn’t get through the crowds later on. To top things off, the light rain that had been falling all evening stopped just before the fireworks were due to start, drying everyone out and removing all fears about equipment getting wet. Thankfully, this time my lens stayed factory-fresh throughout a spectacular display, and you can see the results here.

Above: Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. Left and Below: Hong Kong New Year Fireworks.

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Busan Fireworks Festival (3)The Seoul International Fireworks Festival would have taken place last month, had it not been cancelled due to swine flu. Amy and I therefore braved the tedious journey down to Busan (부산) for the fifth annual Busan Fireworks Festival, which is not “international” and therefore not a flu transmission risk. I was quite eager to have a go at photographing fireworks, and it was with no small sense of acquisitiveness that I raided my local Canon store for a tripod and remote control (Amy and her family had very kindly sponsored my shopping trip as a birthday present), essential equipment to take longer exposures and avoid blur.

We arrived in good time, a fresh breeze blowing off the land out into the bay at Gwangalli (광안리), and checked in to our hotel (the price of which reflected a 225 % markup on normal rates). When making reservations, we had tried to get the price reduced to something more reasonable and were rebuffed with a curt, “We’ve been waiting for this weekend all year” – we were also told that check-in was 7 pm, and had to fight to be allowed in at 3. As we went in and out over the course of the evening, we noted that the room prices were being increased by W10,000 every hour.

Busan Fireworks Festival (2)As the fireworks began, I was still frantically searching for a place to put my tripod (there were supposedly 1.5 million people crowding the beach) – people would trip over and walk into it for the next hour, despite a clear path on the road in front of us. I located a patch of sky and started taking photographs, only to realise after a few minutes that the manual focus wasn’t set correctly. Once this had been (mostly) remedied, my camera decided to shut down with the non-specific error 99. With some rapid testing, I was able to determine that I could “reboot” the camera by switching it off, changing to an automatic mode, removing the lens, replacing the lens and switching it back on, and that the error occurred when I tried to take a photograph in manual mode when the exposure meter was off-chart below -2 stops. I’m really hoping that this kind of behaviour doesn’t repeat itself, but was able to take a few shots of the end of the display.

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