Interview with Candy Lai, Photographer in the New Trope Hong Kong Edition

Candy Lai is one of the Hong Kong photographers who’s work is featured in the new Trope Hong Kong Edition. Originally from London, she’s made Hong Kong her home, where she now works as a public relations and event consultant. Candy’s love of photography is often a reflection of her personality or mood. She is drawn towards vibrant colours, patterns, nature and architecture. While photography is Candy’s sweet escape to another world, it isn't her entire world. In Candy’s own words, she takes photos only when she feels like it, and doesn’t force herself to compete and create content for the sake of Instagram likes.

Candy Lai, Trope Hong Kong Edition

I was born and raised in London, UK. Soon after graduating, I moved to Hong Kong, where my parents are from, and started to work in the PR and marketing field. Aside from my photography hobby, I’m currently working at a Swiss watch company handling digital marketing for the brand. I would say moving to Hong Kong has been the best life decision I’ve made!

Hong Kong is a vibrant city with contrasting dynamics and constant movement that makes it so interesting to shoot. Bold colours, glowing streetscapes and geometric patterns are all in abundance and definitely make you want to go out and explore the city further. Being in this city for seven years, I’ve developed a love-hate relationship. On the love side, I’m still struck by its spectacular skyline, unique charm and exhilarating energy. No matter what, Hong Kong will always have a soft spot in my heart.

I first took up photography when I was at university. I was still figuring out my artistic direction as well as personal style, so it definitely took time to evolve over the years. Back then, I wasn’t as aware of utilising varied perspectives, and I’m certain my editing was too heavy-handed. Of course, style is ever-changing, and I’m still developing new directions even now.

A recent change, for example, is becoming my own model. I used to be so adamant to capture candid subjects. I had the composition in mind already, but I would wait tirelessly for a stranger or taxi to appear. When the moment was right, it’s great, but I’ve realized I can't always wait for that perfect shot to happen every time. Now, particularly during our travels, I would set up and compose my camera for my boyfriend Varun to shoot the frame I envisioned. It’s challenging to both direct and model at the same time, but it’s been interesting to venture out into different genres and try new things.

Candy Lai Trope Hong Kong Edition

Candy Lai Trope Hong Kong Edition

Last year, my boyfriend and I did an urban hike up to a mountain known for its derelict fortress. There was a stone wall that overlooked an amazing view of the city. Hikers sat on the wall to enjoy the view and I took the opportunity to take some shots too. Just as I was coming back down, I misjudged my step and had a nasty fall down a gravel slope. I had to be airlifted on a helicopter to the hospital and had 12 stitches. I’m all recovered now, but I do have a scar down my shin that will always remind me of the incident and how being short has its shortcomings!

One of my early influences is Japanese contemporary photographer and director Mika Ninagawa. She has a distinctive style for gorgeously saturated colours and vivid imagery. I remember coming across one of her photography books and was immediately drawn to her work. She inspired me to not be afraid of colour and the element of fantasy. Another great influence is Fan Ho, a celebrated Chinese photographer that documented Hong Kong locals in the 1950s and 60s. He captured Hong Kong in the most incredibly cinematic fashion with striking compositions and utmost understanding of light and shadows. 

I actually find it quite hard to describe my own photography. I try not to be confined to any particular style, but I would say I am particularly drawn to colour and patterns – be it through architecture, or motifs in nature which are recurrent in my work. With those elements, I also try to convey a sense of narrative.

Before I press the button, I’m always conscious whether I’m happy with the shot or is there anything I can adjust. This could be down to small details such the camera angle, perspective, framing or lighting that I want to get right. Capturing it correctly at the moment of shooting is far easier than fixing at the editing stages.  

I prefer to shoot during the day and in an outdoor environment, as I like to make use of natural lighting. Be it next to architectural buildings or among natural landscapes, light is key for all photographers. When the sunlight hits just right, it always makes for the most amazing shots. 

I hope my photos can conjure up an emotional feeling in any way – it could be a smile, feeling reminiscent about a place, or perhaps be inspired to travel. I’d be happy if people described my work as fun, dynamic and inspiring.

Candy Lai Trope Hong Kong Edition

The current camera I use is a Sony A72, and when I don’t have that on hand, I will use an iPhone. The iPhone has a fantastic lens and is very handy for quick compositions and everyday use, especially since I don’t carry my Sony camera with me daily. To me though, there’s still something special and captivating about looking through a camera's viewfinder to shoot. Perhaps this is because my first photography tool was a DSLR camera so I’ve remained attached to looking at subjects with a viewfinder. I just feel more focused with the entire visual frame that way.

Right now, I mostly edit without filters. I enjoy the gratification of taking time to edit and tune photos from scratch. My process starts from importing RAW files to Lightroom first. I will select and edit almost all from my mobile with both Lightroom and Snapseed. That’s usually all I do to it, but if I need to touch up anything more, I will bring the image into Photoshop. 

Photography has taught me to be more patient and to appreciate the beauty in the fine details of life. Sometimes it’s about observing and waiting before the right moment comes, and other times, it’s to have the courage to ‘make’ the moment myself. It’s also made me stay curious and driven my desire to be spontaneous and discover outside of my comfort zone. 

Candy Lai Trope Hong Kong Edition

Shoots with: Sony A72 and iPhone
Website: www.candy-lai.com
Instagram: @flosslai