Self-Isolation Photo Editing Sessions: Lost Photos from Hong Kong 2020

· 16.April.2020

Due to the current pandemic most of us are enduring some form of self-isolation, social distancing or in complete lockdown. We may find ourselves having to re-invent the way we live to a certain extent, depending on what we do for work, what our financial responsibilities are, and what type of life we led prior to the pandemic. For my situation here in Canada, it’s not too bad (yet). The majority of my work is spent in my studio reviewing gear, creating videos, editing photographs and writing articles like this. I don’t have co-workers so I don’t need to engage with other people (for the most part) for 80-90% of what I do. The 10-20% where I do need to communicate, I can accomplish it remotely. Does this mean I can operate my work without ever leaving my studio? As you can tell by my regular articles, the answer is a clear NO!

Traveling is a big part of what I do, even though it doesn’t take up most of my time. On these short 1-2 week visits to various cities, I can take thousands of photographs and hundreds of video BROLL. With this content, I can create dozens of articles, hundreds of social media posts, and a handful of video content. As an example, on my last trip to Hong Kong earlier this year, I took 2980 images with my Fujifilm X-Pro3, 78 videos (mostly BROLL), 2330 iPhone images and videos, and 632 film images. If I wanted to, I could spend the rest of the year just working on what I’ve already captured from this trip; not to mention all the other recent trips I’ve taken without utilizing all the content I captured. If this is the case, why am I taking so many photographs and videos, if I only end up using a small portion of it? Am I hoarding content? This is a very good question, and something I’ve only recently realized while being stuck in my studio for weeks. Let me explain.

While planning my mid-month article for FujiLove, I was deciding which shiny new lens or camera I was going to use to go out and take photographs with. I had lots of ideas of what I was going to shoot and how I was going to do it. However, I was complaining to myself that would eventually start running out of images soon if I don’t start traveling again. For instance if there was no travel ban, I would currently be in Tokyo and perhaps a quick trip to Osaka visiting family. I would also be planning to return to Hong Kong to finish up some projects within the next month or two. Finally, I’d be planning my summer travels, most likely one trip California and one trip to Toronto or Montreal. I would end the year with another visit to Asia, most likely to Hong Kong again and Okinawa. 

While I was daydreaming about my missed travel opportunities, I was also looking through my 2020 external hard drive and wondered why it was almost half full. Ok, I had some unfinished projects from 2019 that I pushed over into my 2020 hard drive so I wouldn’t forget, but that shouldn’t take up half my 4TB hard drive. I realized a big part of the space was all my unfinished Hong Kong projects from 2019 (two trips) and 2020. In fact, I still had over 2900 unedited-unprocessed RAW files from my X-Pro3 on my latest trip to Hong Kong!! I couldn’t believe I forgot about 2900 photographs I’ve captured (Vivian Maier anyone?). If I wasn’t stuck in my studio daydreaming, I probably would have never noticed the missing images. To be fair, I did pull some photos out for two articles I wrote (X-Pro3 + Classic Neg and the bus project) but those were edited and processed using the in-camera RAW converter. The rest of my images were just sitting on my hard drive waiting to be discovered, or more like remembered. Moreover, I finally had the topic for my latest Fujilove article: editing and processing my recently discovered (aka ‘lost’) photos from Hong Kong while being self-isolated. 

I use Lightroom to edit (or basically look through and make my selects) and process (white balance, exposure, cropping, adding film simulations, etc.) most of my images. Not because I think it’s the best at doing either, but because I can both edit and process at the same time. It’s very quick and convenient. Sometimes I will finish the images in Photoshop for more delicate processing, like sharpening or correcting complex exposures; but in general 90% of my work can be accomplished within Lightroom. One thing I like doing is making one or two versions of the same image, and decided later which one I prefer. I usually wait overnight to do this, or I’ll ask for my wife’s opinion (she can be a brutal critic of my work). Often it comes down to which film simulation looks best for the image. I will always shoot RAW + JPEG, and my JPEG reference while shooting has been Classic Neg, usurping my previous default Classic Chrome. However at night, I find that Pro Neg Std or Provia can work as well. Overall I like the film-like look of the Classic Neg, although the white balance and contrast can be tricky. I’ve created my own custom tone curve to handle the contrast-shadow issue specifically to deal with Classic Neg.

As I type this article, I have barely finished looking through half the images from my Hong Kong trip. I’ve spent the past 2 days going through the RAW files, many of them I’ve seen for the first time since capturing them. As I sit here at my desk, I’m reliving the moments where I captured these images while moving freely through the streets of Hong Kong. It was a busy 3 week trip with a quick 4 day visit to Okinawa (that’s another project I have to share!!), and at the time I felt I didn’t get enough time to take pictures. When I was there it was lunar new year and many shops were closed, the Hong Kong protests were in full swing, and the coronavirus issue had exploded next door in Mainland China. Because of all these issues, my movement and access were limited for the entire trip. I came back to Canada tired and disappointed. I decided to self-isolate at my studio for two weeks just to be safe, but as soon as I could I started a new round of projects. Both the Fujifilm X-T4 and X100V were released and I immediately started my review process (take photos, take product shots, shoot videos, write articles). I was in such a hurry to start photographing again, I completely forgot about my Hong Kong photographs!

In conclusion, this is my excuse but also the reason for my lost Hong Kong photo project. I was too busy to notice that I skipped over these older photos because I was running around taking new photos with more new gear. It took this pandemic and self-isolation for me to notice I had tons of images I haven’t touched. The lesson? I don’t know. Do I take too many photographs? Do I have too many projects? Do I travel too much? Do I enjoy the act of  taking a photograph versus sharing what I’ve photographed? Perhaps it’s a little bit of everything. This pandemic has forced me to slow down and take inventory of my current projects. A photograph isn’t a photograph if it’s just sitting on a hard drive as an unprocessed RAW file. A potential image isn’t an image. I will make a conscious effort to make time to enjoy the images I’ve already captured, and do my best to share as much as I can with you all. Thanks for reading and happy shooting, editing, processing and sharing your photographs!!

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