Learning from Master Photographer Fan Ho

Fan Ho was born in Shanghai in 1937. Very early in his life he received a Rolleiflex camera from his father, a turn of event that kindled his love for photography. Using his family bathtub he discovered how to print photos. Over the 1950s and ’60s Ho made a large number of prints, mainly street photographs, which documented life in Hong Kong. He became one of the most celebrated artists from China. Ted Forbes shares the keys behind Fan Ho’s work:

But Ho’s genius did not end here. In the ’60s he pursued yet another dream of his and went on to become a highly acclaimed film director. Widely regarded as one of the best photographers of his generation Ho is also a highly accomplished film director.

“What’s really interesting and you can kind of tell just at a first glance when looking at Fan Ho’s work, that a lot of these, first off, is steeped in the tradition of I would say French or European photographers, probably from the 1940s and onwards.”

classical european compositional style

Fan Ho’s compositional style is reminiscent of the classical European style

The likeness of European photographic compositional traditions in the works by renowned photographers like Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, and the inimitable Henri Cartier-Bresson, is unmistakable in the works of Fan Ho. The classical compositional style, sub-framing, a sense of scale, and a tendency to play around with light—all this made Fan Ho undoubtedly a photographer from the same genre. But what makes this worth noting is that he practiced these techniques on the other side of the world in Hong Kong.

Geometric Shapes

geometric shapes in photographic composition

This image is a great example of how Fan Ho played with geometric shapes in his images

Many of Fan Ho’s photographs displayed his fascination with playing with light and elements that would impact light, such as mist, early morning hours, reflections, et cetera. But another element that has a strong presence in his photos is geometric shapes. The above image is a classic example.

High-Key Photography

high-key photography

An example of high-key photography by Fan Ho

Some of Fan Ho’s high-key works stretched the limits of what can be done with this genre. Many of these images, like the one above, could almost be labelled over-exposed. You could hardly make out any of the textures and definitions. But, the treatment draws attention to the main elements of the image while obscuring the not-so-important ones.

What can you learn from Fan Ho’s work?

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