Photograph by Robbie Shone
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The Hong Kong skyline and its bright lights shining skyward are seen from the Tsim Sha Tsui pier in this photo shot on the Honor 8X.
Photograph by Robbie Shone

Cities in the Dark with Robbie Shone

How night lights give city photography with the Honor 8X a completely different feel.

Cities like Hong Kong are inherently beautiful during the day, there’s no doubt about that. Sunlight properly illuminates all exteriors and ensures that one can take in every architectural detail possible, leaving little to the imagination.

However, the evening brings about another side of every city, especially bustling metropolises like Hong Kong. For many photographers, it is far more interesting to explore and capture cityscapes in the evening.

This is the case for National Geographic Photographer Robbie Shone, who is no stranger to low-light photography. Whilst at the University of Sheffield, he fell in love with exploring underground caves. During these forays, he took a shine to taking photographs in the pitch-black conditions found within these caves – as they provided an artistic challenge that couldn’t be replicated above ground.

“Every cave is different. Yes, they are all dark, pitch-black. In fact, there is nowhere on this planet that is darker,” says Shone. “But all caves are different in the fact that their size constantly changes, the walls are always different shapes and coated with different substances, making every lighting setup different each time. Therefore, in total darkness, I am always challenged and always have to create new ideas. I love that! After twenty years now, I am not tired. I absolutely love that.”

This passion for cave photography also translated into an interest in other forms of low-light photography, including exploring cities at night with a camera in hand. This interest was behind his latest endeavor: an assignment to capture Hong Kong at night using the Honor 8X smartphone.

So, then, what makes city photography so different a night?

“Hong Kong, or any big city, appears so different at night and takes on a whole new feel,” says Shone. “The night lights change the feel of the city completely, and it’s like being in an uncharted new world.”

Brave the Night with Robbie Shone Watch National Geographic Photographer Robbie Shone brave the night in Hong Kong with the Honor 8X.
National Geographic Partners / Honor

As recently as a decade ago, it took a great deal of equipment to take good photos at night. In addition to cameras and lenses, photographers also needed to bring tripods, spare batteries, and a host of other equipment.

These days, casual photographers can turn to their smartphones for their night photography needs. This is because smartphones like the Honor 8X are setting the bar for night photo quality. Thanks to a dual-lens 20MP + 2MP, F/1.8 aperture rear camera, which is assisted by Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Honor 8X is able to generate striking photos.

“Night mode in the Honor 8x smartphone is very, very clever,” observes Shone. “I have been constantly trying to work out how it works. It has produced several very striking frames that I never would have expected from a phone.”

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The iconic Bank of China Tower is seen prominently in this image captured by the Honor 8X in Central Hong Kong.

City Photography Tips

Interested in taking your own night time city photographs? Here are a few key tips that will help you get started.

Get a good vantage point

Shone says that a great vantage point will help you capture stunning photos.

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This view of the city by the sea from a rooftop in Central Hong Kong made good use of the Honor 8X’s night mode.

“I loved shooting the climbers at Beacon Hill, because I got to hang on a rope and feel more in my space and more in my world. I was comfortable. Plus, the city behind the climbers looked stunning from way up high. Taking photos with the Honor 8X also gave me a new sense of freedom, as I never had to worry about gear weight. It’s much easier to balance a phone in your hand than a large camera.”

Find interesting subjects to focus on

It’s also important to find a great subject to focus on. For example, Shone says he really enjoyed shooting the Hong Kong Observation Wheel, as it really stood out at night, even against a backdrop of other bright lights.

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The pink and purple lights of the Hong Kong Observation wheel are on full display in this image taken on the Honor 8X.

After you’ve identified your subjects, the Honor 8X and its deep learning AI capabilities can also help you compose your photo, because the phone’s camera is able to recognize elements such as people, trees, and the sky. These elements are retouched and optimized accordingly.

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A group of lanterns hanging above ground in Wanchai are shown from the perspective of a man on the street who was wielding the Honor 8X.

Watch out for motion blur

Because there’s a lot less light at night, moving objects like cars, trains, and people are more challenging to shoot. You’ll have to experiment with a few techniques before you’ll be able to achieve the results you desire. Fortunately, the Honor 8X and its AI can recognize 22 different photo categories and 500 scenarios in real-time and adjust its settings accordingly to enhance photo quality.

Visit the ‘Brave The Night’ website for a collaboration with renowned photographer Robbie Shone and Honor as we explore the capabilities of smartphone night photography. Robbie also has some tips that will help improve your own night photography Instagram game.

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