Neon Lights

written by:
Elaine Li


Neon Lights

When one thinks of Hong Kong’s visual culture, neon lights are one of the first things that come to mind. Hong Kong used to be filled with these radiant hues, but the city’s trademark identity has been slowly disappearing since it was deemed “unsafe” by the government. As these iconic signs gradually fade, I became more and more obsessed in documenting and shooting them.

Capturing nightscape provides a unique thrill compared to shooting during the day, as you get to play around with the colors during the editing stage. I always like to tinker with the hue, saturation, and luminosity to bring out certain colors and to create the perfect mood. In this photo, I deliberately brought out the red to portray the essence of Chinese culture and its importance to my great city.

In some cases where the neon sign is interesting, but the surrounding environment is lacking panache, I would try and find angles or reflections, that can create a more interesting imagery. In this photo, I also used Manfrotto’s Lumimuse 8 mini LED light with the Multicolor filter kit to add a different shade of color on the ground, giving it a nice gradient reflection going from the red tones to the teal.

Shooting portraits in front of these neon lights is always a fun experiment. I love how the colors reflect on people’s skin and hair, and how these lights create mood depending on the color. When shooting portraits at night, I always bring the Lumimuse as well, for it’s versatility in filter and color options.

In this shot below, the orange street lights reflected nicely on the buildings in the background. Rather than using regular white light, I wanted to create an image with color and tonal contrast. So using the blue filter, I was able to do just that.

Below is a similar example – the subject is standing in front of a warm colored neon sign. Rather than shooting her directly, the composition is more refreshing when shot through the window of door (It was actually the fire escape door). Using the Lumimuse, I used the blue filter to shine onto the door for that color contrast, then edited to give that teal look.

As you can tell by now, blue / teal is one of my favorite colors to play with. With this shot, the neon lights gave out almost like a rainbow tone, from pink to green. But one something was missing. So again I used the Lumimuse and shined it onto the model to balance out the colors. During editing, I found that blue-ish colors on skin tone is easier to edit than sharper colors like pinks and reds.

However, not all cases require an additional color tone. Sometimes, you just need the right kind light to match the skin tone to brighten up the image. In this following shot, there weren’t any natural light or street lights to match my composition. So using the warm natural filter on the Lumimuse, I was able to create a diffused light around the model, moving the focus of the picture from the neon lights in the background to the main subject.

Hope you enjoyed this article! If you like neon colours as much as I do, follow me on instagram.com/lielaine for more of my work!

Elaine Li

Hong Kong

Elaine is a Hong Kong-based art director and freelance photographer. She specializes in city and street photography, and is known for her urban exploration and rooftopping work. With her passion in photography and power of social media, she has garnered over 150k following on Instagram, and work with a variety of brands as a social influencer.

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