5 Lessons FAN HO Can Teach You About Street Photography

Fan Ho: in my opinion, better than Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Fan Ho shot the streets of Hong Kong when he was only 21. He later went on to become a movie director, and passed away in his 80’s.

His images are phenomenal — and I think they are way better than Cartier-Bresson.

So my ambition is to help spread his work to a wider (Western) audience:

1. Be a street director

“I am a director.”

What I like about Fan Ho’s work is you can see his cinema-vision. He started as a photographer, and later went into making film.

But what he would often do in his photos– direct his friends into position (tell them where to move or stand), or sometimes wait for people to pass by (the street photography ‘fishing’ technique with leading lines).

So be like Fan Ho — don’t feel bad for directing your subjects. Consider yourself like a director on the streets, like William Klein.

2. Don’t just be inspired by photography

Study all forms of art for inspiration. Study painting, poetry, and music:

I don’t only get inspiration from photographers. I studied Chinese literature in university. I especially loved Chinese poetry. Many of my photos are influenced by the great masters of poetry in China from a thousand years ago. They hvae soul. I also get inspiration from music. I love Brahms’ symphonies, Mahlr, and Debussy, and Stravinsky. I love classical music. They give me inspiration, especially during my work in the darkroom.

Inspiration is everywhere. Don’t limit yourself to just photos.

3. Film vs photography

What is the difference between making film and photos?

Making film is a lot harder and involves more people:

At first, I was very naive and simple-minded. I thought film was just like taking photos, but it was much more complicated. Shooting film involves more factors that can affect your work. I’ve directed nearly 30 films, and I know it involves many people. You get pressure from many different directions– pressure from the producer, investors, and the budget, and box office. No box office, no director’s life.

You have more freedom as a photographer.

Also, know that no matter what– stay true to your artistic vision. If you compromise your artistic vision — you will probably be a big ‘success’ in terms of hitting the big box office, but you will not like your work as well.

I started as an expermental filmmaker before I became a director. When I made dramas bsased on famous novels, they were accepted by the hong kong film archive and taiwan film archive into their permanent collectio, but failed in the big box office.

If you follow your true artistic vision, true artists will accept it (even though you might fail in the box office).

4. Try anything

My belief in art creation is to try anything.

No limits. Make all forms of art.

5. Mixing the old and new

Cool thing that Fan Ho did — he combined his old film photos with Photoshop, to make new layered images.

He breathed new life into his older work — super creative:

I’m trying to mix present and past, new and old, reality and dreams; to make my old negatives have a new life. That is why I use modern techniques, like Photoshop, to digitialize my darkroom experiece and helps me combine or superimpose these images, or even borrow from movie techniques and do a montage and mix together into a fusion. An old, nostalgic feeling mixed with new sensations.


Courtesy of Modernbook Gallery

Be like Fan Ho — see the world with drama, beauty, and if you want his ‘look’ you want to shoot film. I recommend shooting Kodak Tri-X black and white film.

I am most inspired by Fan Ho’s cross-over between cinema and photography, his mature vision at age 21 (you can do it too), and his non-rigidness with new technology and the past.

Oh yeah, and his compositions are pure sublime for my soul and mind.

Thank you Fan for your legacy and beautiful imagery — it sends quivers through my mind’s eye.



Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

“He without a past has no future.”

Start here:

  1. Cheat Sheet of the Masters of Photography
  2. 100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography
  3. Beginner’s Guide to the Masters of Street Photography

The Masters of Photography

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